Determined to pay as low a price as possible for materials, manufacturers have not traditionally cultivated warm relationships with suppliers. In the words of one general manager: “The best approach to supply is to have as many players as possible fighting for their piece of the pie—that’s when you get the best pricing.”

Excellent supply chain management requires a more enlightened mind set —recognizing, as a more progressive manufacturer did: “Our supplier’s costs are in effect our costs. If we force our supplier to provide 90 days of consigned material when 30 days are sufficient, the cost of that inventory will find its way back into the supplier’s price to us since it increases his cost structure.” While manufacturers should place high demands on suppliers, they should also realize that partners must share the goal of reducing costs across the supply chain in order to lower prices in the marketplace and enhance margins. The logical extension of this thinking is gain-sharing arrangements to reward everyone who contributes to the greater profitability.

Some companies are not yet ready for such progressive thinking because they lack the fundamental prerequisite. That is, a sound knowledge of all their commodity costs, not only for direct materials but also for maintenance, repair, and operating supplies, plus the dollars spent on utilities, travel, temps, and virtually everything else. This fact-based knowledge is the essential foundation for determining the best way of acquiring every kind of material and service the company buys. With their marketplace position and industry structure in mind, manufacturers can then consider how to approach suppliers—soliciting short term competitive bids, entering into long-term contracts and strategic supplier relationships, outsourcing, or integrating vertically. Excellent supply chain management calls for creativity and flexibility.

Aval Sethi