Right now, we are all facing the same challenges of not having the right “everything,” from laminates in my industry to critical components in other related industries. As the result of the pandemic, severe shortages—both real and created—from our offshore vendors are making it difficult for us to build and deliver products on time.
That, combined with a sharp increase in product needs (especially new product development) has impacted the entire electronics industry, and I am certain it has impacted other industries as well.
If we are going to get through these hard times, it will require us to have a true cooperative relationship with our vendors. We need them now more than ever. And if they want to sustain a good relationship with us both today and in the future, they need to find ways to support us.
It is in challenging times like these that true long-term vendor-customer relationships are forged. But it takes patience, honesty, and cooperation from both sides of the desk when it comes to overcoming these challenges.
There is only one true way for this to work and that is for us to work together, not only with our vendors but with our competitors as well. We might have something that our neighbor needs and we might need something from them. Our vendors can help us with that.
If we have good vendors, if we have worked diligently over the last few years to establish a good relationship with them, then we will be able to trust them to help us get the products we need, even if we must get them from our competitors.
Here are five things we can do with our vendor partners to get us through these times of shortages.
- Take down the silos. As we have heard so many times over the past 15 months: We are all in this together. This has proven to be the best policy of all. Let’s all find ways to work together—vendors, customers, and even competitors—and find a way to share knowledge, experience, and technology that help us overcome the shortages we are facing today. Who knows, by working together during these hard times, maybe we will all get to like one another and start productively working together in the future as well. Now that would be something.
- Work with your vendors to find alternative solutions, especially when it comes to products like materials/laminates. If you are a PCB fabricator, ask your laminate supplier for alternative substitute materials, ask him to talk to your customers to convince them that the substitute products will work as well as the products that are already spec’d in. If you are the PCB customer, work with your PCB vendors, their engineers, and your engineers, to either accept the laminate supplier’s alternative solutions or come up with a more suitable solution of your own.
- You should be open to trying new products. In times of great adversity comes great innovation. Maybe this is the time to try something new—a process, a type of substrate, a chemistry solution—that might help us get through these shortages. Nothing should be off the table. In the end we are all trying to meet and satisfy our customers’ needs and maybe the way to do this is to open our minds to discovering and trying new alternate solutions to the problems we are facing.
- Have grace under pressure. This is defined as the ability to keep your head about you while everyone else is losing theirs. Getting angry and impatient with your vendors never helps, especially in times like these, when you need your vendors now more than ever. Work side by side with them to find a way to solve the problem together. Fighting and arguing at this point is counterproductive.
- Be realistic. Assume that your vendor partner is doing their best and give them space to do that. Pushing and applying pressure will only intensify the problem rather than fixing it. The best thing to do is work together. The more understanding you are about your suppliers’ issues the sooner you will, together, find a way to solve the problem.
This is the right time to find out how solid your partnerships with your vendors are. It is always much easier to have a great relationship with your vendors when everything is going great. But it is much more challenging and difficult when times are tough. But the way you work with your vendors in these hard times will determine the kind of relationship you will be forging in the future.
Remember that this too will pass and one day when you are at dinner with your vendor partner you will have a glass of wine (or maybe even a flight of wine) and reminisce about the good old days when together you overcame the great shortage challenges of 2021.