A West Coast View on Asian Competition in the PCB Industry
At a recent Eptech High-Tech show held in Vancouver, I made a point of seeking out the PCB manufacturers, who were mostly from Ontario, and asked each of them two simple questions: what makes your shop special and if I were a customer, why would I buy from you? The answers repeated over and over, mostly with deadpan seriousness, surprised me. We’ve been in business since 1972 or 1982 or 1968, we have good customer service, we can turn a job around in 5 to 10 days. In an age where I would expect firms to be using core competencies to distance themselves from the competition, I instead found a herd mentality, like wildebeest, waiting for circling Asian manufacturers to pick off anyone who strayed from the herd.
In our own shop, we receive many spam emails from Asian PCB manufacturers eagerly offering to take over our workload.
A few are well written but those are certainly not the norm. I imagine industrious, naive employees sitting in parkas at their cold desks in Nanjing, trying to create the perfect email introduction to their company which will entice a North American customer to align with them. It would probably disappoint them to know their carefully crafted emails, not picked up as spam, are shunted off to trash with message filters. For fun, I recently set up an auto response for the most prolific senders, offering our services to do rework and repair on their warranty circuit boards. I’m certain the fate of my emails is very similar to theirs.
In North America, when sales slow, the first line of defense is often to “work the phones”. While it may not be a definitive indicator, I did recently receive a call from a perky young women from Shenzhen. It was very early in the morning and she spoke to me as though she was the first person from China to make contact with our company. I politely explained we receive between 40-50 spam emails per day from Asian PCB suppliers and she excitedly asked: “What did you think of my email?” To her disappointment, all I could do was repeat – we receive 40-50 spam emails per day from Asian suppliers.
At Omni Circuit Boards, we still have a couple of advantages over our Asian counterparts.
Time is on our side, it’s in how quickly we can turn an order around, it’s in customers not waiting for the overseas flights and customs delays and it’s in being in the same time zones as the engineers and purchasers who rely on us for quick responses. Another advantage is the Prototyping and Short Run niche market we compete in is of little interest to Asian competitors, at least to date. The market we compete in requires quick changeovers, flexible manufacturing processes and near-instant communication between our customers and ourselves.
When I asked the high-volume PCB firms at the high-tech show how they were holding up against the Asian competition, their shoulders sagged and they gave me a dull stare. In a fit of bravado, one salesperson suggested they were starting to see work coming back from Asia. I asked him if he had seen any printed circuit board competition from Vietnam yet and he just moved away from me.