Is It Time To Vertically Integrate Your Supply Chain?

Will reading a recent Wired article over on CNN Tech on why nobody can match the iPad’s price, I began to wonder if maybe it was time for multinationals to start vertically integrating their supply chains again. Now that the perfect storm of cost, supply risk, and market turbulence has hit, it would appear that the outsourcing and right-sizing craze of the nineties and early noughts has revealed its dark underbelly. The shiny paint of internal cost reduction has cracked and pealed and all the hidden costs associated with logistics, delays and stock-outs, and lack of buying power on the part of your suppliers are now exposed.

The article, which notes that none of Apple’s competitors can meet the $500 that it asks for an entry level 16 GB wi-fi iPad, notes that Apple is able to achieve this feat for two reasons:

  • It’s unique retail strategy:
    It sells primarily through its own retail stores and, thus, doesn’t have to share a big chunk of the profits with third party retailers.
  • It’s unique vertical integration:
    The article notes that Apple is the most vertically integrated company in the world – it operates its own retail chains, all hardware and software is designed in-house, and it runs its own digital content store. As a result, it doesn’t have to pay licensing fees to third parties (as even the A4 chip is owned by Apple).

This results in a company that is able to not only able to use a vast ecosystem to design, build, and sell its products, but that is able to control that ecosystem as the last company in our industry that creates the whole widget (Steve Jobs).

Makes you wonder if its time to integrate those key pieces of the supply chain that you spun out over the last two decades because some consulting organization, looking for an excuse to further drain your bank account, convinced you it was a good idea. Or at least take a significant (share-based) interest in a few key suppliers so that you can guide them towards a successful path and, when it makes sense, buy raw materials on their behalf.