Swimming Naked in the Supply Chain: Getting to Know Factories & Sourcing

As the phrase goes, "when the tide goes out, you find out who has been swimming naked" many businesses are painfully finding out whether their offshore manufacturing sources are without bathing suits.  Some companies have turned much greater attention to the managing of their costs and risks in the supply chain in recent years, and a few have found competitive advantage in doing so.  Now, it's becoming a necessary means of survival. 

Panjiva, a company which data mines US Customs data along with other sources to develop insight into manufacturing and trade trends, notes in this blog post that "From January 2009 to February 2009, in just a single month, the number
of global manufacturers shipping to the U.S. dropped 10%, from ~131K to
~118K."  Furthermore, Panjiva reports that:

Many SMEs do not have the resources to build risk models to assess risk in the supply base and to create and implement expensive risk management plans.  However, even without sophisticated quantitative methods, the principles can be applied.  Thinking through various events that can occur, the likelihood of these events, and the impact they can have, can be a useful exercise for an SME to undertake.  In good times, many won't delve too deeply into creating contingency plans.  Of course, in challenging times, it's the companies that did set this up who eat the market share of those who are too busy scrambling to save the company.

Given the economic environment, a few risk infused events that are more likely to occur on the supply side might be price increases, MOQ increases, or quality fade–stemming out of a situation in which a supplier, or even a 2nd tier supplier, is hitting the skids business-wise and needs to find a way to get more cash with the customers and orders they still have.  They may be looking at monthly survival. 

A lower probability event that may have a high impact may be your supplier going under and completely disappearing.  Worst case scenario: they disappear with your money.  Or, perhaps they don't respond to your emails and phone calls next time you are ready to place an order.  This won't give you much time to source another supplier, develop their manufacturing processes to meet your specifications, and pick up where the last one left off.

How can we create a decisive advantage in managing these risk factors?  Create greater visibility in your supply chain and expand your portfolio of options.  Visibility is  information–thus extract more information from your suppliers and about your suppliers.  The easiest way greater transparency can be had is with a more open, trusting dialogue.  These kinds of things are much easier to do face-to-face, particularly in countries like China.  But use third party information to help create a comprehensive picture.  Consider having factory and company financial audits performed.  Information from local banks used by your suppliers, government agencies, and other sources can give you an idea of the financial status of your factory.  Another useful source is the company Panjiva, mentioned above.  Panjiva offers reports on the importation data for thousands of suppliers that allow one to learn about fluctuations in a suppliers shipments to the U.S., their other product lines, and other customers.  In this case, knowledge is power and with it, you obtain a much better view into your suppliers current situation and their impetus for trying to renegotiate terms. 

Also, are you single sourced on key products and components?  Source second and third suppliers for your products.  Alternative sourcing options gives you leverage with knowledge of general pricing and terms available in the market, as well allows you a stronger negotiating position by not feeling entirely dependent on one supplier.  

Summer's around the corner…if you don't already have a bathing suit, now is the time to start shopping.

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