EXPORTING TO AUSTRALIA – OUR EXPERIENCE
At Synapco, we began exporting on our own account in the early 1990s.
As a custom moulder, we don’t actually own the products we make for our clients, so in effect we are moulding contractors, vying for the right to mould their products for their exclusive use.
So, how did we manage to persuade Australian based companies to use a New Zealand based custom moulder as their supplier? The following key elements are, I believe, the main reasons we succeeded in our first foray as an exporter.
Fortunately for us, we already knew most of the people we were dealing with in Australia – they are mostly ex-Kiwis. We had had business dealings with them previously so they knew about Synapco’s capabilities and expertise.
However, the Australian business psyche is different, and it was a challenge to re-establish our contacts and rapport. Satisfying them that we could deliver quality products on time and at the right price took energy and persistence. Numerous visits and follow-up telephone calls over several years ensued before we were given the opportunity to quote.
Sounds a stupid thing to say, but many people don’t understand what product quality actually is. We didn’t – but we sure do now. Here is an example.
Our first direct export opportunity came some 20 years ago at a time when Synapco was experimenting with thermoplastic rubbers to compliment our vulcanised rubber capability. We had acquired tooling from a failed venture, so the moulds were ours in this case. We purchased a suitable second-hand plastic injection moulder so we could establish the processing parameters using this new material. As luck would have it, the injection moulder broke down soon after we fired it up and we didn’t have another option. Given the tight delivery schedule for the initial trial shipment, we had no alternative but to utilise another custom moulder in our town. Regular progress checks ensured we met our delivery schedule – just. We waited for some feedback from our Aussie client – nothing. Meanwhile, we recovered the moulds following the trial run, repaired the injection moulder, and started producing. The quality appeared Ok, but more process tweaking and mould modification was necessary to get a high quality product. After nearly a fortnight we finally plucked up the courage to ring Australia. A very cool reception, and a blunt response – if this was the best we could do, then let’s forget it! Further probing revealed 40% of the trial shipment was rejected because of splitting at the weld lines. However, they really liked the product concept.
Luckily for us, we had done a lot of development work for these guys when they were based in NZ. We explained our machine failure, but emphasised we now had everything under control. Could we please have another chance?
Suffice to say, we are still exporting this range of products to Australia and are regarded as A1 suppliers.
Lesson learnt – ‘Never assume quality simply by looking at the product’. Immediately after our second chance life-line, we agreed on a comprehensive testing regime with input from our client. To the best of our knowledge, there has never been a quality issue since that first run, and the numbers supplied now run into millions.
ON-TIME DELIVERY – LOGISTICS OF EXPORTING
One of the demands from our Australian based clients is that we deliver on time – in some cases ‘just in time’. Our experience over the last 20 years of exporting has confirmed that to be accepted as a NZ supplier in Australia, we have to be able to supply as though we are ‘locals’. This means the mode of transport is critical – it must be reliable and cost effective. In our case, we have opted for airfreight on all our trans-Tasman consignments, and we pay the freight as part of the product cost. The support from our NZ freight forwarders has always been excellent – the few delays we’ve had have always been on arrival/transit in Australia. Yes, we probably give away some margin, but the benefits for us and our clients far outweigh the small cost penalty. To ensure we meet our shipping deadlines, we have instituted a range of in-house measures including ‘Kanban’ for the control of stock levels and production, robust production planning, material scheduling, and open communication between all the parties involved.
PRICING AND MARGINS
As mentioned above, we pay the export freight cost as part of the unit product cost. Furthermore, we price in Australian dollars. Why? Because we want to make it easy for our Australian customers to see us as their ‘local’ supplier, and give them price stability in their currency. There are risks for us as we take the forex gains/losses, but we have managed by pricing to our own established benchmarks. The feedback from our Australian customers has always been very positive. We accept that the Australian market is very competitive, and our pricing/margins reflect this, but the upside for us is generally larger volumes than we could expect from our New Zealand based customers.
TERMS OF TRADE AND AGREED PAYMENT TERMS
It’s normal practice for many Australian companies (particularly corporate) to take 60 days payment terms (or more) as a matter of course. By establishing our expectation for payment terms at the very beginning of our contracts, we have found we mostly get paid on due dates. As a small company, the detrimental effect on our cash flow is huge if a large customer doesn’t pay on time. We therefore take credit control very seriously for all our customers, no matter where they are based.
The majority of products produced by Synapco are exported directly or indirectly around the world either as parts in sub-assemblies or as stand-alone products. Exporting requires a ‘can-do’ attitude to overcome the many obstacles and hurdles encountered along the way. Successfully participating as an exporter for the last 20 years has been both fulfilling for our company and staff, and financially rewarding for both ourselves and our customers.
A LITTLE BIT OF ADVICE BEFORE YOU JUMP!
by Dave Pine
Just about everybody I talk to in the NZ plastics industry agrees that ISO 9001 is an excellent standard, but it will not solve your problems, if it is not implemented well.
We all know the implied value of a QMS. In our case, having accreditation was a requirement driven by a large export customer – if Synapco wanted the supply contract it was a ‘must have’, and once we got our head around the standard and what was required it really wasn’t such a big deal.
Ironically the main emphasis of ISO 9001:2008 is all about customer satisfaction, so we really had the perfect motive to keep momentum up on our implementation programme.
In my experience, the most critical requirements that make a QMS successful is to have full management buy-in, and generate the system in-house.
Paying a consultant or contractor to do all this tedious work seems like the best deal, but once they have told you what you need, supplied it, and charged accordingly, you will be on your own. You will have missed a perfect opportunity to learn everything you need to know about ISO 9001 whilst tailoring a quality system that fits exactly with your company, that you can easily understand and improve, and most importantly that you can fluently defend during those stressful external audits!
There is nothing wrong with using a consultant as an advisor and teacher (in fact I would recommend it), but you must take ownership of the system, and that means doing the work yourself, if you expect to succeed in the long-term. I would liken it to paying some other kid to do your homework back in school – sure you wouldn’t get detention for not doing your homework, but when exam time came around, you’d be likely to fail. Don’t go there!
After the manual has been approved by your ISO consultant, you can implement it. People often assume that generating the required documents is the hard part, but they would be wrong! Implementation will actually be the hardest part because you might find that it involves a quantum shift in your company culture.
Before you embark on this harrowing journey to accreditation carefully consider the following:
- Is ISO9001 a customer driven need?
- Do you intend to do it in-house, with your own people?
- Is management totally committed to the goal, and the financial resources required?
- Do you have access to a good consultant to act as a facilitator, and trainer?
- Are you comfortable with change, and able to execute the hard calls to make it happen?
If you answered yes to all the above, you will achieve the ISO standard just fine. You will end up with a surprisingly minimal ‘business manual’, which will cover every aspect of business operations including Health and Safety, and satisfy all aspects of the standard to even the most pedantic ISO 9001:2008 auditor.
THE BENEFITS OF A GOOD SYSTEM
by Dave Pine
A few years ago, we embarked on a process of collecting metrics around what things would make Synapco a better place to work. The whole team was asked to complete a survey questionnaire and, to my surprise, the hands-down winner was having a safe workplace! (I was sure it was going to be better wages and conditions, or better equipment.) This presented me with somewhat of a challenge – the common view of managers I had worked with in the past was that Health and Safety was a nuisance, cost time and money, and contributed nothing, but clearly I would have to change my way of thinking.
The survey result showed me that there was a huge value in staff morale alone. I compiled a checklist of the legal requirements and found that we were lacking in quite a few areas – we had no formalised evacuation plan, unlicensed forklift operators, a total lack of safe operating procedures and no hazard management plan! In spite of this, we had always had a very good history when it came to workplace injuries. No issues or lost time injuries had invited a closer inspection of our operation by OSH, but that was no excuse to continue with the status quo. So, we set about improving plant safety like never before!
As key parts of the system were completed, we got down to the details. Fortunately, our production team were completing their Lean Manufacturing training, which meant there were more improvements made, and it became obvious that there were going to be more pay-offs than I originally expected. I quickly learned that being safe does not mean being slow – in fact, a well set-up work area can be both safer and more productive! I also learnt that it is essential to have the person doing a job involved in the process, not only to get buy-in, but they usually know the best ways to improve processes. We found that every time we implemented a new H&S initiative, there was an unexpected efficiency bonus that came with it, and we are now proud to accept visitors into our factory, knowing that they will be impressed with what they see here.
Eventually the day came when I got a phone call from the local OSH auditor; they would be doing a random workplace inspection the following day. When the auditor arrived, it was apparent that he expected to find a raft of issues and non-compliances, but to his surprise we ticked all the boxes and he walked away giving us a clean bill of health and a commendation! If we hadn’t made the changes, I’m sure there would have been some negative impacts to the business, and a demand to bring it up to standard.
We are fortunate in NZ to have a government that fully supports workplace safety. There are resources available from industry training organizations, which can provide a gap analysis of health and safety within your organisation, and training aids to help you achieve them, generally fully funded.
I suggest you take advantage of what’s on offer, because ultimately it will improve your staff morale and efficiency, enhance your customers’ perception of you, and most importantly, ensure that your staff get to go home at the end of each day.
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