By Marco Garcia Flores, Supplier Quality Engineer Team Leader, AMREP Mexico
With the rush of the automotive and aerospace industries into Mexico over the last few years, it’s been an extremely busy time for our quality engineers and inspectors. We’ve been working with suppliers in Tijuana, Nogales, Mexicali, Reynosa, Monterrey, Puebla, Queretaro, Leon, San Luis Potosi and many other industrial locations across Mexico.
Most of the time we’re developing corrective actions and improving their quality production processes.
When reporting back to my American and European clients, I find that they keep asking me, ‘ how do we understand Mexican suppliers better?’ ‘How do we get the best out of them?’ ‘How do we effectively manage our suppliers in Mexico?’
Some tips for managing Mexican suppliers
Here’s a few points of advice I can give:
- Mexicans always say ‘yes’
Mexicans find it very difficult to say no or express disagreement directly. This is especially the case if you are a guest or customer of theirs.
When you’re speaking to suppliers, don’t be surprised if they keep agreeing with you and saying ‘yes’ to all your requests even if they are unable to follow through. They will go along with what you say; the trick is being able to read their body language and other surrounding factors. For example, when you try to follow up with them, do they seem to be trying to push you off, avoid the topic, or delay giving you an answer?
- A ‘Tomorrow’ Attitude
The biggest problem with Mexican suppliers is that the management has a ‘tomorrow’ attitude on problem resolution, whereas the customer would expect a ‘today’ mentality. The overall business drive in Mexico is not as frenetic as compared to other countries like China, India, or the USA.
As an example, just look at the rate of technology adoption in China. Chinese suppliers have jumped onto getting their websites translated into English, listed themselves on every supplier directory possible, ensured that they are contactable by all communication methods available to them.
Mexican suppliers in contrast, have been very slow to do the same. Most of them keep their websites in Spanish, have a website design that dates back to the early Internet days, and may not even have a product catalogue. They may also be very slow to respond to customers, especially over the email.
To get over such situations, one of the things we do is to put a customer quality representative inside the supplier factory to work directly with the Mexican factory management and ease them into problem resolution. We often say, ‘ you fixed your quality problems with the Mexican Way and Style, using American tools!’
- Friends share business
Mexicans have very informal ways of doing business and tend to rely on word of mouth and person-to-person referrals. Everybody involved in a business transaction is a friend of one another. In the manufacturing context, a common situation is that your supplier will usually try to externalise production activities to or source components from other supplier friends of theirs, sometimes without your knowledge.
This can be especially problematic if you are not always able to maintain a presence at your suppliers’ premises – not only are you unable to monitor the performance of your supplier’s sub-suppliers (which you have no control over as they answer to your supplier, not you), but also you are unable to see exactly what is going into product. Friends are always liable to impose less exacting standards on one another.
Is there a solution?
The only ways to address such situations, are to check on your supplier frequently all the way to the packaging and delivery stage, and to maintain vigilant control over their incoming materials receiving processes.