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Rubber Products Manufacturer Engages Customers to Keep Work in U.S.
The most effective way to combat offshoring of parts manufacturing is to engage the customer with pertinent questions that make them think twice about going to China, according to Tom Fitzhenry, vice president of sales for Minor Rubber Co. Inc.
"It's our job as job shop vendors to emphasize what we can do for them (customers) and how we can solve their problems," he said. "There's a lot we can do with small-to-medium sized customers that gives them so much value that they don't think as much about price."
An example was a customer who needed a specific material for a part. Minor Rubber inquired as to what the material would come in contact with and determined that it would be used with PVC pipe. The company suggested using a compound that was friendly with PVC. "We have to engage them, ask questions, and make them realize there's a lot of value and time to be saved if we have these discussions that you can't get with an offshore source," he said. "We need to talk about what we can do for them, how we can solve their problems, and how we can work with them through the design phase. It's all the things we can do one-on-one that can't be done in China."
Manufacturers in China are only thinking about how cheap they can make it to get the part to a low price, he said. But fewer and fewer customers are lured by cheaper prices nowadays, he added. "We have to add value to what we do and it starts with the initial conversation," he said. "We have to sell ourselves as companies and what we can do for the customer."
Minor Rubber (www.minorrubber.com), based in Bloomfield, N.J, has been providing custom molded, extruded, and fabricated rubber products for more than 70 years to the electronics, transportation, defense (DOD), medical, agriculture, aircraft/aerospace industries, and others. In addition to commercial grade materials, Minor Rubber specializes in compounds that meet or exceed the requirements of Military (MILSPEC), ASTM, SAE, ANSI, and FDA specifications.
Although the company cannot be cheaper than China on big quantities, Minor Rubber has so much more to offer in terms of quality, service, reliability, and solving problems, he said. "We can get samples out quicker and we're more competitive now than ever," Fitzhenry said, noting that prices in China are starting to climb. "Our lead times are quick and we're able to turn around on a dime and get samples out. And people don't want to stock a lot of product. They want to be able to get it in a short period of time and not inventory a lot of product. We can do a lot of things to be flexible; we're far more flexible here. But it's our job to engage the customer, and whenever somebody comes to your booth, or if you're on a sales call, you need to ask a lot of pertinent questions and get the customer to think about things he hadn't thought about."
Reshoring is not a myth, he said, and Minor Rubber is seeing a lot of it with people coming by the booth at trade shows having been "burned" overseas and wanting to learn what their options are. "Is it economical to bring it back? Does it make sense to bring it back? They want to bring it back, but you've got to give them reasons to do so. You have to be offering something that they're not getting and you have to empathize with them and understand what they're going through. You need to give them solutions that will allow them to consider you as a domestic source versus offshoring," he said.
Customers are frustrated when dealing with Chinese suppliers, he added. "They're just not getting consistent product. They're not getting it in a timely manner and there are all kinds of issues. The cost of freight has gone up, and China is raising prices far more than we are here in the U.S."
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