Products are what our industry is all about. Of course, the act of manufacturing is no small task, and doing it well is a very unique and challenging venture, one that requires careful planning and expertise. Those who take it on should be fully prepared for all it entails and it entails a lot.
Retailers and distributors today are keen on the thought of procuring manufactured parts from lower-cost sources. There are even instances where large retailers and distributors have formed joint ventures with these manufacturers perhaps even purchased them outright. While I support this strategy of becoming a de facto manufacturer as a worthy example of a free and open market, I caution those who do it to have a deep, thorough and comprehensive understanding of the overall manufacturing process, and not just an understanding of the manufactured part itself. By assuming the responsibility of manufacturing, they’re also taking on a long list of very specialized tasks. I hope they’re up to the challenge.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve seen quite a transformation among manufacturers of all sorts, both in the OE and aftermarket sides of the industry. Most notable among this transformation is the ability to manufacture products in countries with dramatically cheaper labor. As this transformation continues, we owe it to ourselves (and to our customers) to keep a sharp eye on the safety and performance capabilities of the products we distribute. Manufacturing a product is just one small facet of the overall manufacturing process. There are many, many things beyond the manufacturing of a part that impact the overall performance of that part when it’s finally installed into a specific application. I’m talking about product support, engineering and R&D. More specifically, there should be a thorough, audited system in place to ensure the quality of the raw materials being sourced to make the part. There should be a dedicated and qualified engineering staff in place to constantly test and review product performance, measure and enhance quality control, analyze and upgrade tooling and machines and redesign or enhance product attributes. Distributors who choose to become part of the manufacturing process need to be at the forefront of creating and designing new technologies, new materials and new products. They will need to continuously invest in the R&D necessary to perform all of these functions. They will need to have the product management systems in place so they know what to expect from future application demands and performance requirements. They should be able to accurately project demand, monitor failure rates and their causes, swiftly identify quality issues and correct them instantly, plan inventory and manufacturing schedules and bankroll defects and workmanship refunds.
If they are unable to do at least those basic elements of manufacturing, I wonder if they’re truly working to enhance customer safety and product performance. I’m not saying that retailers and distributors shouldn’t be involved in manufacturing. I’m merely suggesting that they do it for all the right reasons. The parts they sell are all they’ve got. Making the part is but one part of the process. How they perform and are supported once they leave the store will ultimately determine whether these kinds of strategies are successful or not.