Establishing long-term relationships with offshore suppliers via open communication is a key to a manufacturer's international success.
And the importance of those relationships is amplified when working with highly engineered products such as rubber molded parts, according to Elysia Teh of Lauren Manufacturing Co.
In her paper, ``Offshore Supplier Relationship/Communication,'' Teh, vice president of international business with Lauren, talked about why solid offshore alliances are necessary for rubber product manufacturers and how they can be secured. Teh spoke at the International Rubber Molding Conference, held April 1-2 in Cleveland.
Teh said her business experiences gave her the impression many people take the offshore supplier relationship for engineered products as lightly as they might have with commodity products. They expect to shop around for the supplier with the best price and change suppliers just as easily as they do when dealing with commodity products.
But domestic rubber manufacturers have many barriers to deal with when working with offshore suppliers: language, business philosophy, cultural differences, time changes and more, Teh said. When you are buying and selling commodity products, these differences often don't stand in the way of progress.
``However, when you are working with highly engineered products, and the need for frequent communication becomes necessary, the barriers that exist can become greatly magnified,'' Teh said.
The establishment of an effective communication network is one of the ways long-term relationships can bolster an offshore partnership, according to Teh. While it is unrealistic to expect suppliers to be problem-free, it is realistic to expect to reach them at any time with urgent communication. A 24-hour contact point-especially with the time differences-is necessary, she said.
Long-term offshore relationships also are important for:
* maintaining a continuous supply of quotations for inquiries received;
* keeping suppliers willing to work on quality issues that may occur;
* promoting openness from suppliers, including the sharing of their operating systems;
* building team spirit;
* fostering a belief in each other's research and development capabilities; and
* developing, meeting and exceeding customers' needs, even when volume may be small.
There are no simple answers about the best way to set up a good offshore supplier relationship, according to Teh. But communication is vital.
``Good communication is the key to mutual understanding and an effective working relationship,'' she said. ``The same reasoning holds true that bad communication is going to create insurmountable problems.''
Communication also goes beyond speaking the same language, Teh added. Understanding differences in culture, business practices, structure and operations are important factors in making the communication channel simple and effective.
``We must understand how cultural differences make communication different and often very difficult,'' she said. ``In general, American culture is more open and outspoken. We have to be very careful with nations that are more conservative by nature. Outwardly, they try to be friendly, but it is difficult to fully understand how they think and what they expect.''
Where overseas communication is concerned, if partners don't understand their differences, unnecessary problems can occur. A great deal of time and energy can be wasted due to the lack of understanding of the root causes of problems, she said, and as a result can generate stress and tension, jeopardizing the relationship with the suppliers as well as customers.
Companies that want to create a partnership with a domestic producer for offshore dealings need to look for firms with employees dedicated to international activities and who know the cultures of the nations with which they want to do business. Teh said this is a difficult prospect, although many think culture can be understood through reading, talking to experts or through the media.
``In my opinion, even if you live in a particular country for a few years, it is still very difficult to truly understand them,'' she said.
But Teh does believe a good relationship, once it is established, can make a huge difference. ``The right domestic partner can make your offshore partnerships profitable and successful for everyone.''