This global economy is really hurting us in our own neighborhoods and few are willing to look at why. Formula manufacturing is often in the center of this firestorm.
As I travel from one formula based manufacturer to the next I sense a real turmoil over the profit driven decisions to import foreign packaging and materials versus employing people in our own local economies. "I can get it 25% cheaper from country X versus domestically."
Given: The profit motive drives all businesses to find the lowest cost alternatives to producing products given a similar quality. After all, the purpose of a corporation is to maximize the wealth of the stockholders.
I just don't buy the argument that because the component is cheaper per unit that it is the best decision for your formula based manufacturing company. There are many more factors that should be considered.
So let me share some insights that need to be taken into consideration in determining the decision to buy locally or import foreign.
- Scheduling – go to any procurement officer and ask them if everything was equal would they prefer to source their components 1,000 miles away or 10,000 miles away? Simply from a scheduling and logistics discussion – it is much easier to deal with a 1 week lead time vs. a 12 week lead time. These variables that the scheduler must address are not trivial. Because of this there is a strong argument that because your supply chain reaches across the ocean you are placing significantly more work on your procurement group. In the end that costs you productivity and money.
- Quality – as quality concerns continue to grow from imported products the testing requirements for those using these products also grows. By bringing an imported product into your supply chain you are subjecting the quality of your products to standards not customary for your market. In other words the quality standards expected in your market may be far higher than the quality standards normal in your trading partner's market. To keep quality to the appropriate level will require additional oversight, testing of inbound components and a more complicated recall process. Each of these will cost you time, efficiency and eventually money.
- Cost – when evaluating whether an imported component truly costs less than a domestically supplied component make sure to address the known and potential costs associated with that business relationship. How many trips overseas will it take to ensure a reasonable relationship? What is the cost of managing that relationship? What will it cost you when a shipment is delayed by natural or political reasons? Can you really absorb those costs? How much additional inventory are you going to carry to buffer the variation in foreign availability? What is in the political water related to tariffs and import fees? If there is a problem what will it cost for you to meet with someone in authority to address the problem?
- Customer – More and more of your customers will not take delivery of product that is produced from components sourced from certain countries. We are seeing a strong push toward Country of Origin disclosure. What will you do after you have chosen to source a material from one of these countries that your larger customers have banned? Will you source from multiple locations and what will it cost you to verify that you can track the source of each lot by country? Sourcing domestically addresses these concerns.
So in the end I am not convinced that the price per unit is the only consideration in determining the source of certain components. In addition to price per unit consider what changes will take place in logistics, quality assurance, hidden costs and the mind of your customer.
Sadly I am seeing many companies ignoring the additional data and they are changing their supply chains without considering all the facts.
If price is the only reason to source from a foreign market I think it is prudent to consider the factors above. Profit motive is important but it is not the sole consideration.
As a last point – is it possible that a current domestic customer yours could outsource your business because they can get it cheaper from a foreign source? If so you may want to give all of this a second thought before it happens to you as well.