For this blog we are grateful to Paul Gagg, a Global Operations Manager, based in the UK but with extensive experience in this field for his business.
"The continuing shift of manufacturing activities away from Developed to Low Cost Countries (LCC’s) shows no sign of abating. Despite well documented stories of organisations “near shoring” or repatriating manufacture, the flow remains overwhelming toward LCC’s. Much of the shift has been driven by the pursuit of cheaper Costs of Goods (COGS) and, in the majority of cases, LCC’s ex works COGS have proven to be considerably cheaper. However, there an increasing awareness of the need to take a holistic view, assessing the true cost to serve and deliver products to the end customer; a realisation that the perceived benefits of moving to LCC’s are less dramatic than initially projected.
Aside from the obvious costs associated with manufacturing further away from the historic centre such as logistics, tariffs and higher inventories, there are other costs to consider. Travel costs (both time and financial) to undertake audits and supplier meetings and the increased risk of loosing brand equity due to IP and trademark infringement are more difficult to capture, but should not be underestimated.
Whilst LCC governments, particularly China, have made concerted efforts over recent years to bring legislation in line with Developed economies, there remains significant scope for improvement in the control and regulation of manufacturing businesses and their interpretation of “legal” business practices. Compliance to World Trade Organisation regulations is at best patchy in countries such as China and it is important to ensure that robust procurement practices are put in place.
Organisations wishing to transfer activities to LCC’s need to ensure that infringement of IP, Know How and Trademarks are mitigated and the impact on COG’s and brand equity minimised. The following should act as useful guidelines throughout the off-shoring process and should help to reduce potential issues surrounding IP and Trademark infringement:
1) Ensure signed Confidentiality/ Non Disclosure Agreements are in place before any detailed information is transferred.
2) Extensive due diligence needs to take place. Visiting facilities is imperative. Developing personal relationships, however difficult given cultural and language barriers, must be done.
3) Employ a local team who can act as the in-country liaison. Managing suppliers in this manner continues to build on the relationship and ensures that policing of the LCC supplier can be carried out regularly.
4) Take a balanced approach to your portfolio. Undertake full cost to serve modelling to ensure that “Material” benefits exist by moving to LCC’s. Once complete weigh against the perceived risk of IP and trademark infringement inherent within the product that you intend to offshore.
5) Ensure commercial contracts are in place. Create separate Trademark and Patent agreements in both English and Chinese and ensure that the Chinese version is registered with the Chinese IP authorities.
6) Do not underestimate the speed with which designs can be transferred into sellable copies and undermine your market share.
Whilst the above list is not exhaustive, it should give some insight into the actions that should be put in place to mitigate the inherent risks in LCC sourcing. Transferring manufacturing to LCC’s clearly has many benefits."