I’ve been the owner of Northeast Manufacturing Company, a precision machine shop, since 1974. Over the years, I’ve noticed that while buyers’ fundamental goals have remained consistent over the years, there are new behaviors and attitudes that emerge—as the world changes, so do we all.
As a job shop, it’s critical to meet and exceed your buyers’ evolving expectations to continue delivering quality service to your existing customers (and winning over new ones).
Part Buyer Expectations: New Trends
There are numerous ways in which buyer expectations have changed over the past few years that I’ve picked up on, and I think the more job shops are aware of them, the better we can communicate across the supply chain.
Requiring Faster Turnarounds
Customers today want to be able to submit an order and get their parts turned around fast. A 4-6 week lead time is no longer acceptable; there just isn’t enough time on their end to accept that. In a fast-changing economy, customers’ needs change even faster, and projects are more time and budget-sensitive.
A need for speed starts at the quoting process. The norm for responding to an RFQ used to be a few days; we used to be able to return a quote 5 days after receiving it and still win the work. If we did that now, we wouldn’t have a shot (we use job shop estimating software to speed up our process significantly).
Asking for Prototype Work Before Awarding Production Work
Buyers know their job is on the line if the hundreds or thousands of parts they procured end up failing to pass inspection (or worse: winding up in an assembly line).
We’ve been noticing more requests for prototype work prior to customers signing on for a production order. This has been common across the industry for a while, but not at our shop—the fact that we’re now seeing it indicates that this buying behavior is on the rise.
If your shop makes a mistake in the prototype phase that you don’t quickly and successfully remediate, your buyer will expect the same level of incompetence from your production services; you’re not winning the work unless you course correct with urgency and respect.
We’ve been seeing more and more customers wanting their parts shipped out to them over the course of a few months rather than all at once. I see this as a result of their heightened desire to have more control over their orders; the supply chain and the economy is unpredictable, and people today seek predictability. If buyers know they’ll need 10,000 of the same part over the course of the next six months, why not just place the order now instead of re-placing it every other month when a shop might not be able to fulfill their request?
Buyers not only gain predictability with scheduled releases, but with staggered shipments, they’re able to keep their stock areas less compressed, spread out their payments, and reduce the burden of having to inspect the parts and put them through the assembly line all at once.
How Job Shops Can Capitalize on Buyer Expectations Trends
If job shops want to win more work and retain more customers, they must act with their buyers’ expectations and attitudes in mind. Some pieces of advice I have for doing so:
Actively Work to Strengthen Customer Relationships
Fostering strong relationships with your customers starts with exceptional customer service. Buyers have always wanted fair prices, quality parts, and speed. But buyers are also risk aversive, meaning they need to be able to trust that if there’s a problem, your shop is equipped to handle it. If they’re not sure of that, your relationship is already on thin ice.
At Northeast Manufacturing, our salespeople are always serving our customers. Viewing customer service as an ongoing responsibility rather than a reactive, ad hoc, check-the-box part of the business ends up helping both you and your customers in the long run.
If we make a mistake on our end, we always do our best to remediate things. We also live by the idea that even when the customer is wrong, they’re still right. Even if an error may have occurred due to a design issue, we don’t point fingers or expect them to figure it out on their own. Sometimes we have to eat the cost, but that’s just the price of ensuring that we can continue the relationship.
Dig Into the “Why” Behind Your Win Rate
Are you missing out on jobs you quoted? Try to get to the root cause of why you didn’t win: was your price too high? Maybe other competitors are under-bidding you. Don’t be shy about asking your buyers for feedback; there could be an opportunity to try to make those parts in a cheaper fashion, maybe on a smaller machine at a different time.
Upfront and transparent communication has helped our shop expand into new types of work. It sets you up to ask them for a shot at new jobs they may not typically award you.
Speed Up Your Quote Turnaround Time
Buyers no longer have patience for shops that fail to get their quotes returned in a timely fashion. Try implementing ways to streamline your quoting process, like using a job shop estimating software like Paperless Parts.
At our shop, Paperless Parts allows us to return all of our quotes within just a couple of days. And if the quote doesn’t require us to wait on anything, we can get them out right away. It also allows us to capture all the information we need to quote in one place, making it easy to quote varying amounts based on what the customer is looking for.
The platform’s flexibility and ability to templatize so much of our work enables us to be agile and work more quickly, meaning faster turnaround times and more jobs for our shop.
A Message to Fellow Shop Owners
At Northeast Manufacturing, we know that if we don’t deliver spot-on accuracy in everything we machine, more than our reputation will suffer—we’ll become a second-tier machine shop. This is something we have aggressively avoided since opening our doors in 1952.
As job shop owners, we often spend too much of our time working on our business instead of in it. Things get busy and we forget to take a step back and evaluate new opportunities for improvement that might now be on the table. As long as the world continues to change, so will buyer expectations. We must always be ready to adapt and change, or prepare to get left behind.
Download Paperless Parts’ latest Custom Part Buyer Report to find out how to meet and exceed customer expectations and win more work.
Chris Lobdell is the owner of Northeast Manufacturing Company, a precision machine shop in Stoneham, MA serving customers in bio-medicine, electronics, communications, defense and aerospace, laser, optical, computer and microwave industries. Northeast continues to attract business across an entire spectrum, from Fortune 500 companies to small entrepreneurial start-ups.