Daily Archives: July 24, 2011

Should You Move Your Production Back to the US?

In the outsourcing craze, there was a mad rush to move manufacturing to China and services to India. In the latter case, with the rising costs in the big, mature, outsourcing centers, it’s now cheaper to open call centers and back-office shops on home soil in the US and UK than to move them to India, where they are so desperate for talent that they are now hiring Americans in America to fulfill American outsourcing agreements. In the former, the price of production, especially with logistics costs and a weakening American dollar, is rising monthly. For some industries, it may soon be cheaper to produce at home, if it isn’t already. Especially when the total lifetime cost of ownership is taken into account.

Consider this recent article in Fortune which notes how some American businesses, fed up with the poor quality of having their products made in China, are moving production back to the US. In why we left our factories in China, we find out that Sleek Audio, a small business that makes in-ear headphones for iPods and other audio devices, fed up with low quality, too much travel, communications problems, shipping delays, rising costs, and — worst of all — a ruined shipment of 10,000 sets of earphones that cost millions and nearly brought the company to its knees, decided to quit China and move manufacturing back to the US. Their up-front costs are about 15% to 20% higher on-shore, but since they are now able to produce a higher-end product (that can command a higher price), they can justify the cost.

Now it’s true that some companies get great prices and great quality from Chinese factories, but the reality is that these are usually the large multi-nationals that can afford to have someone on the ground full-time to oversee production. If you can afford to oversee production and insure your production runs get the appropriate timing, priority, and quality checks that you need, you can get good quality. But if you don’t have someone on the ground full time, then you may not even realize there is a problem until the next day as most small operations don’t have a phone manned at 2 AM. And since your production run is usually squeezed between bigger ones, there may not be much attention paid to quality or other issues important to you.

In other words, if you’re a Global 3000 multi-national, then it’s likely that production in China still makes sense for the organization for the time being, but if you’re a small or mid-sized manufacturer, it might be time to pull production back home — especially with the economic incentives being offered by many states to revitalize the economy.

Mulally’s Turnaround Strategies Are Good Fodder for Supply Management

A recent article in Industry Week on management lessons you can learn from Alan Mulally presented six pieces of advice that should be taken to heart by any Supply Management organization looking to turnaround its operations and take its performance to the next level. Simply put, they are:

  • One Vision
    Just like Mullally created a “One Ford” plan, which charted a course for product development, manufacturing strategy, and financial rehabilitation, your Supply Management organization needs to help the business construct its own “One Company” vision that defines what products and services its going to focus on, the manufacturing strategies it is going to employ, and the market goals. Then Supply Management needs to create the “Single Supply Management Operation” plan that describes how Supply Management is going to operate to support the “One Company” vision.
  • Act with Urgency
    Why put off until tomorrow what can be done today? That being said, there is a difference between acting with urgency and rushing things out the door. Never put anything off, but take the time that is needed to get it right.
  • Develop the Guiding Coalition
    Be sure to involved all of the affected stakeholders, internal and external. This will significantly increase buy-in and support for Supply Management.
  • Communicate the Vision
    Everyone inside and outside of Supply Management needs to be on the same page. Savings only materialize if contracts are adhered to, best practices only provide value if followed, and efficiency is only obtained when operations are in sync.
  • Generate Short Term Wins
    Go for the low-hanging fruit, get some success stories, and then communicate them up the wazoo.
  • Make Change Stick
    Instill a disciplined sourcing review process and make sure it is followed at all times. Support will be easier to obtain after the organization sees some short-term wins.

In addition, it will help if you are a charismatic, creative, and decisive collaborator. You need to work with your stakeholders, but when an impasse is reached, you have to clear the way.