Buyers: ‘You must try harder'

Buyers: ‘You must try harder’That’s what the buyers were telling the distributors at the annual Meet the Buyers event in Essex last month. The cosy relationship between buyer and supplier is on the way out. Paul Gregg reports
Buyers of electronics components believe that component distributors are doing a good job by and large. They are certainly better than distributors of mechanical parts or computers, but when criticism is expressed it is quite vocal.
At the annual Meet the Buyers event, held at the Brentwood Centre in Essex last month, there were buyers from a cross section of industries including the manufacturing and services sectors. A number of those representing engineering companies listed themselves as buyers of electronics components, with annual spends of ?400,000 on components and ?150,000 on PCBs.
It appears that the days of the cosy relationship that once existed between buyer and supplier – often accompanied by wining and dining – are on the way out. The buyers are prepared to come out from behind their desks and meet potential suppliers in open forum at venues such as the Brentwood event.
Barry Langmead, who is the procurement manager at GEC-Marconi Electro-Optics, Basildon, typifies the new breed of buyer. He said that while most buyers have good personal contacts with component distributors, it was possible to become complacent by staying in the office and relying on one’s own data base of contacts.
Harry Gammage, who is the project procurement controller of refurbished equipment and retrofit projects, at European Gas Turbines – a GEC Alsthom company, said that curiosity was the great attraction of an event such as the Brentwood event. He said: “You never know what exists around the next corner”.
Both volume and catalogue distributors on the whole get top marks on promptness when answering customer’s telephone enquires, specially in those instances where good personal contacts exist already. Few of the OEMs questioned carried sizeable stocks of components. So they rely heavily on being able to replace commodity parts quickly.
Langmead of GEC-Marconi said that he sees a willingness on distributors’ part to source a wider range of components than hitherto. “Distributors are more willing to take risks in order to help you. They will even stock items that have become obsolete in order to oblige,” he said.
When it comes to promptness on delivery, he said that they could do better at it. “Some remain complacent,” he said. “If they say that an item will take six weeks to deliver, we do not expect it to be six weeks and two days. Because of the reduced lead times that exist today, we are under pressure ourselves from our customers to deliver on time”.
“Factors such as quality, delivery times and promptness in answering phone enquiries should no longer be an issue,” Langmead added. “We use the Business Excellence Model as our own yardstick. It can be used by small or large businesses alike. We expect our suppliers to work to it also”.
Andrew Reynolds, who is the materials manager at industrial control components manufacturer, MTE, based in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, is particularly critical of component distributors. He worked in electronic component distribution before moving into the manufacturing side. “I do not believe that they are doing a good job,” he said.
Reynolds pointed out that “as soon as they talk to you on the phone they reveal a lack of product knowledge,” he said. “You get the feeling that you are talking to a sales person who does not have the level of awareness and technical knowledge that you require. They should be able to guide you in the right area”.
When it comes to negotiated prices, he described their attitude as “appaling”. He said that “you have to fight long and hard to get a reasonable price agreement”.
Langmead was also “wary”about pricing. “It is necessary to keep enquiring about prices,” he added.
However, not all buyers are quite so suspicious about the pricing policies of distributors. Gwyn Thomas, who is materials manager with the laboratory heating equipment manufacturer, Electrothermal Engineering, said that “with the current price deflation, component distributors are prepared to stay in line when it comes to renewing annual contracts in order to keep your business”.
When it came to the level of technical product support provided by distributors, the feeling among some of the buyers was that component distributors do not have their interest at heart. “We need technical support for a product even it is not part of a distributor’s franchise,” said Langmead. “I still think that some of them are only interested in their businesses rather than supporting yours. One is frequently told – that is the best I can do – in answer to a technical question.”
Reynolds was even more forceful. “I have never seen an engineer from a distributor go in and help (one of my) engineers.” However, he was quick to concede that “they have a role to play, but there is a lot more that could be done”.
You might say that quibbles about prices and technical support are inevitable, after all most distributors would accept it is the customer’s prerogative to expect a better deal. But quibbles apart, most buyers when pressed will admit that the level of service from many distributors is improving.
The attitude of most of the buyers of electronic components was summed up by Harry Gammage. “By and large, electronics component distributors have taken enormous strides in the past few years. Today there is a general realisation that we are all working to the same ends.”

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