Two shopkeepers were bitter rivals. Their stores were directly across the street from each other, and they would spend each day keeping track of each other’s business. If one got a customer, he would smile in triumph at his rival.
One night an angel appeared to one of the shopkeepers in a dream and said, “I will give you anything you ask, but whatever you receive, your competitor will receive twice as much. Would you be rich? You can be very rich, but he will be twice as wealthy. Do you wish to live a long and healthy life? You can, but his life will be longer and healthier. What is your desire?” The man frowned, thought for a moment, and then said, “Here is my request: Strike me blind in one eye!”
When someone sent me this joke last week I could not help thinking about the companies in our industry. We are so focused on beating the other guy, that we don’t spend much time working on how we can make our own companies better. In fact, we are always so focused on disrespecting our competitors that we would rather see them fail than succeed. I have noticed that there is usually some satisfaction when we hear that another shop has gone out of business.
Think about this. Should we be happy if one of the few shops left in this country goes out of business…really? We are already feeling the negative results of the steadily diminishing number of shops in our part of the world. The numbers are up for debate but from what I can estimate there were once at least twelve hundred shops in North American in the early eighties and now there are only around two hundred, and that’s individual locations not companies. If you consolidate all the TTM locations under just the name TTM you get even fewer.
This is what has happened while we were cheering the loss of our competitors:
- We have lost our leadership position in the PCB industry
- We are no longer the technology leaders we once were (Yes, it’s time to quit telling ourselves that all the technology is developed here in this country because it is no longer true)
- We no longer have the strong vendor base we once had to the point where if you have a shop in the Southwest or the Northwest you are no longer seeing vendors as often (if at all) as you once did.
- Which means that we have also lost the technical support we once relied on with having a strong vendor base.
- Our customers especially the defense contractors are so worried about the sparsity of qualified American vendors to handle their defense and aerospace PCB needs that they are petitioning the DOD to allow them to go offshore, or at least to work through American contract manufacturers who buy their boards from “qualified” offshore sources.
None of this bodes well for those companies that are left. We have two choices, we can keep beating the crap out on one another until there is no one left or we can figure out how to work together and become strong partners instead of weak and weakening enemies. Think about it, maybe it’s time for the remaining companies to circle their wagons and figure out a way to start working together and in a cooperative effort to stand together and make the American Board industry as strong as possible.
Collaborating with one another is the only way to go if we want to make the future ours, heck if we even want to have a future. PCB companies need to find ways to come together and present a stronger front to their customer base.
Instead of cheering for the demise of our competitors we should be making them partners in these ways:
- Communications: Start talking to each other. Find out what your competitor can do that you can’t and work out an agreement.
- Share technology research work on new innovations together.
- Share capabilities: One shop might have via-fill equipment while another has plasma etch by working closing together and doing some bartering both shops will be able to offer both capabilities.
- Combine your buyer power. Remember the old granges where farmers got together to buy seed and equipment and get a better deal from their vendors? That’s the idea. If four board shops get together to buy four drills from one equipment vendor, they are going to get a much better price than if each buys their own. And they will also have more influence when it comes to having that equipment serviced.
These are just a few of the things that shops could be working together on. If they choose. They say that if you don’t define your future someone else will. Aren’t you tired of someone else determining your future? Don’t you think it’s time you did something about it? It’s only common sense