Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The One Order Relationship

Welcome Ceremony In India
One of the hardest concepts that I have found to explain to factories is Pomeroy’s particular way of working.  In the beginning of a relationship even when I explain how we work to a factory owner, in most cases he or she only expects to snag one order if possible, and the notion of a repeat order is as foreign as the person standing in front of them.
We typically work with the same factories for years, never on a single order basis. This can be unusual.  In the beginning a factory will quote on a project and if they get the order, will not expect to ever see that customer again. The buying habits of major retailers has created this environment; as they typically work with buying agents or trading companies and have little personal contact with the factory owners.  This style of working makes it pretty easy to drop and add factories at will without ever really developing any type of relationship.  I know a particular case in which an off price retailer, not particularly interested in design created a system of buying brass, whereby they would simply weigh the pieces and pay by weight.  This system for buying product certainly removes the need to create a relationship, or getting to know the factory’s capabilities, much less the possibility of generating repeat business.  Often is the case where a factory will have significant business built with a customer, working through an agent, only to have it stripped away without warning for whatever reason; which of course leaves the factory vulnerable to the whim of the person in control of the relationship with the customer. 
Pomeroy works best with a trading company when our products, being diverse, require a wide range of raw material sourcing and production techniques as well as consolidation of components.  A trading company is also critical in a situation where language is an issue making direct communication impossible. In this case unfortunately, while I make a point to meet and work on developments directly with the factory,  the customer is the trading company, and not Pomeroy.  This creates a situation whereby as much as I might like the work of a particular factory I cannot always control whether we maintain a relationship or not.  They may want to raise prices in the middle of a season and do not understand that we in turn cannot raise our pricing as there are retail programs in place where pricing may not change, and indeed in my experience it is simply better to terminate a particular item in lieu of trying to raise a price on an item; as our retail customers will not accept increases anyway.  This dynamic forces the trading company to constantly search for additional sources for production to maintain consistent pricing.  And while this does not foster the kind of long term relationships that Pomeroy espouses, it can have a positive effect in the end by effectively challenging the factory to improve their cost structure or efficiency to come back and work with us again in the future.
In other countries Pomeroy deals more or less directly with the factories using an agent for communication relating to orders, product development, quality control, printing, and shipping.  I have worked for twelve years in a particular country, mostly with the same factories, and have been able to maintain relationships with the owners, which is rare.  Wherever possible, the factory should try to develop and maintain direct communication with the customer; if for no other reason than to learn and understand the other side of the equation relating to these global transactions. While it may sound positively byzantine at times to learn how major retailers function in the U.S., it is important that they make the effort.  A better understanding of case pack requirements, pre-ticketing requirements, packing label requirements, testing, etc… will improve communication between the customer and the factory.  And no matter what the category of discussion, in the end more communication between the customer and the factory will only create more opportunities for both.