Partnership is an often-used term in the business world today. At Bowden Manufacturing, we use it as the core of our company purpose: “To Establish, Maintain & Grow, Long-Term, Mutually-Beneficial Partnerships with Our Customers, Our Teammates & Families, Our Suppliers, and Our Community.” These days, it seems that the word “business” implies “impersonal” relationships and justifies treating people poorly, without courtesy or respect. We believe that to conduct business properly, people need to care about each other and to have their partner’s best interest in mind.
We took some time to reflect on our company experience and describe the qualities that we have seen in our best partnerships. These are the same qualities that we try to exhibit in all of our partnerships.
SEVEN QUALITIES OF A BOWDEN CUSTOMER PARTNERSHIP
Personality – We appreciate good, old fashioned, human contact! Cooperative, positive people who take the time to make a personal connection with others are the type of people that tend to make a partnership work. “All business,” “Just the numbers,” or “I’m the Customer, Hear Me Roar!” doesn’t work well for us. Lasting partnerships start by taking the time to get to know the other people, their perspective, and their situation so that we can work for mutual success.
Visitation – Our experience shows, unquestionably, that on-site visits in both directions help create deeper understanding on both sides of the partnership. We typically visit new partners within the first year so that we can get a better understanding of our partner’s environment, and meet the engineers, inspectors, purchasing agents, and others that make the relationship work at multiple levels. We expect that new partners will come visit our shop within the first year, so that they can develop an understanding of our environment, our people, our commitment, and our sense of ownership of the products we produce for them.
Connection – Communications between multiple levels within partnering organizations dramatically increases mutual understanding and speeds problem solving.
• Our engineers seek to understand how the products we produce are intended to function for the end-user of our partner’s products. This understanding typically goes beyond basic print tolerances, so that our processes can be engineered with the end-use in mind.
• Our Quality Assurance personnel seek to understand and replicate the inspection processes that will be used by our partners once we’ve delivered products. This helps us discover potential defects prior to shipment.
• Our Customer Service teammates endeavor to provide accurate and timely status of our partners’ orders.
Volume – We invest a lot of time, energy, and resources into a partnership. We want to develop robust processes for producing our partners’ products. So, we seek to be regularly engaged in supplying our partner’s products, rather than every once-in-a-while. When we are regularly engaged in providing their products, the result is usually a six-figure annual sales machining relationship. Our typical partners outsource a significant volume of products of “our type” of machining work, rather than producing them in-house. We aspire to function as an extension of our partner’s company, rather than as a competitor to their internal machining capacity. This reduces our partner’s asset intensity.
Typically, our partner requirements vary in quantity from 10-25 pcs per month for complex designs up to 1,000-3,000 per month for more simple products.
Product Wheelhouse – The products we manufacture for our partners tend to be a consistent combination of part size, geometry, tolerances, and quantity required. They tend to have some complexity so that not just any shop can do the work and they routinely have both milling and turning required.
Raw materials we use often are net or near net shape, which we can obtain from our supplier partners. We regularly work with a wide variety of castings, forgings, and extrusions. The work-holding, engineering, and inspection requirements of these types of products tend to be more challenging and require our deep skill set.
Our “product” extends beyond the physical item that we manufacture. We have suggested design changes that improve manufacturability and may reduce cost. We can develop supply and inventory strategies that improve our partner’s reaction to their marketplace dynamics.
Open Pricing Discussions/Trust – Often business dealings are shrouded in secrecy…. particularly when relating to pricing in a business-to-business relationship. We talk openly with our partners about pricing, since we know the value we provide means we are typically not the lowest price supplier. Our ability to streamline the process of decision-making, by getting pricing discussions out in the open, can help facilitate direct action in a timely fashion.
Early in a partnership, openness requires trust. Typically, our preliminary estimates are 5% to 25% higher than final pricing. We seek an avenue to begin producing the product in a short-run, low-risk manner for both sides. This serves to begin the working relationship of the partnership, lets us prove out our manufacturing process, and allows us the chance to see what pricing we might be able to offer in production.
Long-Term, Win-Win Thinking – If a partnership is going to last, it has to benefit both partners. We are not seeking short-term victories at the expense of a potential long-term partner; rather, we try to set appropriate expectations and over-communicate as we start a new partnership. We work hard to discover what is a “win” for our partners and that is different for each company. We see a marathon when it comes to partnerships, not the 100-yard dash and our partners share that mindset.
At Bowden Manufacturing, we are excited to meet new people, learn new things, and develop new partners. It’s exciting to see our products and services help our partners on their long-term road to success.