In my last post, I left you with a rather long list of comments from RF/MW PCB designers about what they liked and disliked about working with PCB suppliers. I pointed out that at least 70% of those comments had to do with communication….real communication. Not just a barrage of emails that fly back and forth between customer and supplier. I meant communication which delves deep into a customer’s needs and prevailing issues with a mind to partner and problem solve. I saw evidence of the lack of this communication when I fielded questions at the end of my presentation, How to fall in Love with your PCB supplier. In my talk, I proposed that customers and OEMs really dig deep and forge strong, lasting relationships with solid suppliers, realizing that the money and time saved is substantial. I noted that changing suppliers to save pennies was often a costly and foolish way to go. I also outlined what realistic vs. unrealistic expectations one might have of a PCB supplier—which did not include perfection!
Here are a few questions that followed my talk:
- “Do PCB suppliers inspect their boards before they ship? For instance, is it normal to be able to visually see problems right out of the box? When we told them about the problems, they just said they would do better next time.” (Yikes!)
- “Do most PCB suppliers make their own boards? Because our supplier, whom we have been working with for a long time, just told me they don’t actually build the boards. They are brokers”. (And this was never disclosed?!)
- “I get what you’re saying about a PCB supplier not being perfect, but our customers press us to be perfect and if we aren’t, we lose that customer. So, we just play the odds. We work with one supplier for awhile and if they’ve done a great job, we know they are going to mess up soon—so we change suppliers before that happens. (And pay tooling charges over and over, while gambling on quality!)
- “Our management requires us to go out every few years and just quote a bunch of suppliers to make sure we are up to date and getting good prices/service.” (This is a good practice, by the way!)
I made clear to the attendees that I was aware that my proposal of creating mutually beneficial partnerships sounded a bit “Pollyanna” in nature. For instance, all tier one customers have to answer to stock holders and, for the most part, price is The issue! I was not really speaking to that segment. But, after 20 years in the industry, I remarked that my suggestions were well researched and were the only way that really worked long term.
The day after my talk a long-time friend, and veteran PCB salesman, told me that he had told his wife (who I know) about my talk. Her comment was…”that idea is so…well, girly!” His chuckles let me know that he agreed.
It amazes me that the idea of supplier loyalty, good communication and mutual respect should seem so outlandish and silly to so many! How did we get here?! The speed of business coupled with oceans of email and electronic communication has made skeptics of us all. I also noted that many have lost a sense of what realistic expectations ought to be between supplier and customer.
I learned a lot while preparing for this short talk on a rather light subject (or so I thought!). I prepared a hand out for the attendees with my thoughts on this subject which you can read here. I may seem naïve to some, but I assure you I am a battle-scarred veteran in the PCB industry. Doing business well will always involve good, meaningful communication and creating win-wins for both customer and supplier. No matter how savvy we get technologically, the magic still happens eyeball to eyeball and in the turn of an old fashioned, trustworthy hand shake.