Thursday, April 23, 2020

Can we really compete with China?

When we interview a new candidate for an assistant job, the first thing I point out to them is that we don't do cold calling. If you are in sales, then you know exactly what that means: every day is Christmas! Calling potential customers out of the blue, unannounced, begging for sales is simply the lowest form of prostitution.

On Monday, I asked my young assistant to start harvesting the internet for a very specific term: Australian rubber and silicon extruders. She had absolutely no idea where we were heading with this, but that was good.

If you are wondering what rubber and silicon extrusion has got to do with watchmaking, the answer is: absolutely nothing. Yet it just so happens that one of our high precision CNC machines can do wonders for extrusion manufacturers as we are capable of making a precision die which could transform their product from an Oris to a Patek.

Four hours later, we had the email addresses of 58 Australian rubber and silicone manufacturing companies and it was my pleasure and honour to start cold calling.

Writing an intro email which would pass both computer and human spam filters is not as easy as it may seem. The email must be genuine, honest, to the point, short and above all factual.  "We are so and so and we can save you money" will end up in the rubbish bin instantly. Nobody cares about you anyway, and at a time when the whole of Australia is in lockdown, nobody cares about anything.

Ten minutes later, my cold call was ready for delivery: 

Strangely enough, penning this message down felt liberating. After all, we are not begging for business, we are not desperate, and if you are a fellow Australian maker, you may greatly benefit from our service.
That was on Monday. Twenty four hours later – there wasn’t a single reply. Not even ‘hey, stop your spam’. Nothing. Complete silence.
At 12:50 on Wednesday, finally, an email arrived from an automobile restoration business in Victoria. They make rubber windscreen seals for European vintage cars. They are small. They need just one die. And to my surprise, there was a drawing file attached.
Quite frankly, I was over the moon. One job is better than no job. As tempting as it was to reply promptly, I held my horses. I forwarded the drawing on to Josh and Andrew: can we make this die?

To cut a long story short, the die was completed in less than 2 hours.
Here is the picture, from under the microscope. It was cut from a 6mm thick steel plate, ready for extrusion. 

“Here is your die mate, please email us your delivery address”.
To say that our yet-to-be-customer was impressed, would be a gross understatement. He simply replied “Unbelievable, best service ever. How much please?”
The die was in the mail at 4:30pm, overnight courier.
And because the purpose of this exercise is to demonstrate our machining capabilities, we are doing it free of charge. Give it a go.
The yet-to-be-customer replied promptly. "Please let me know how much would you charge for this job," he insisted. We told him that our current (and only) customer pays $360 for such a job. “I am sorry”, he said, "This is embarrassing, but I can not afford your service. My current supplier charges less.”
And I do believe him. But his current die maker couldn’t make this die because he uses a completely different process and completely different equipment where tolerances are “500microns on a good day”. Our tolerances are under 2 microns, every time, every day.
My team members were disappointed. It took fair bit of explaining to convince them that this project was a success.

We completed the job in no time, shipped the product promptly, and exceeded our customer’s expectation. This is the winning formula – and this is the ONLY formula to establish yourself as a maker.
The last thing we should do is rush to conclusions: when in a day or two our rubber extruder finally makes that windshield seal for that vintage Mercedes, he will realise that what he has to offer to his customer is a completely different, superior product worth charging for. He will be changed in a very special way, and his mind will open to countless new possibilities, that with our help he can venture into a new range of products which could be offered to new customers, and charged accordingly.
Now, if you think that a die maker in China, Japan, Germany or Switzerland can do a better, faster and cheaper job than an Australian die maker, then you are mistaken. Not only we can compete, but if we want to, we can do better.
And whenever you are disheartened, just think of an olive tree: olives begin bearing fruit in the tree's fifth year and have full fruit production seven years after planting. It then takes 65 to 80 years for the olive tree to reach stable yields, but it can produce olives for hundreds of years.
Like olives, manufacturing can not be rushed. 

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