15 Questions for an Electromechanical Distributor (Before a Contract)
by Simcona on May 30, 2023 10:52:03 PM
Any purchaser of electronic components wants to cover their own rear end.
The easiest way to do that is by finding the best electromechanical distributor possible. It doesn’t take rocket science to conclude that you want a supplier whose results are fast, inexpensive, and high-quality. But what exactly fuels or flubs those traits?
Think of your search for an electronics distribution company as troubleshooting before the problem begins. By asking specific questions before adding or changing vendors, you can ensure years of supply chain reliability.
How to Sort Out the Top Electronic Component Distributors
There are 15 valuable questions – covering all aspects of the process and relationship – you should ask any potential electronic parts supplier. You can click on one to skip ahead:
Inventory questions 📦
Delivery questions 🚚
Cost questions 💵
Quality questions ✅
- Any quality assurance processes?
- Any certifications?
- Do you specialize in certain markets or components?
Relationship questions 🤝
- What’s your supply network like?
- How long have you been doing this?
- Any other value-added services?
- What relationship can I expect with Customer Service?
#1: Do you stock product?
Not every distributor is a stocking distributor. However, most distributors carry at least some basic components in-house.
When you don't have to wait for commodity products to arrive from the manufacturer, it makes your production process that much snappier.
Ask about the quantity and variety of components the vendor carries in-house. From there, investigate:
- Whether the distributor can consistently meet your demand
- Minimum order requirements
- How it ensures accuracy of stock numbers
#2: Do you offer inventory management?
This is a big one.
Inventory management services are the #1 stress reliever for an OEM. In the right hands, outsourced supply management ensures a shortage doesn’t cause a production halt, while avoiding surpluses that go to waste.
Good inventory management is much more than an Excel sheet:
- Warehousing – Holding your component orders so you don’t waste valuable space on long-term storage
- Tracking – Last-time buys and identifying replacements for obsolete parts
- Forecasting – Proactively addressing seasonal needs and potential market shortages
You’ll want to know how and how much – not just the distributor's facility space, but also its practices for storing components. Components can be sensitive to temperature, moisture, and static discharge. Make sure your investments won’t degrade prematurely in your partner’s facility.
#3: What are your stocking limits?
The vendor may restrict your stock by:
- Dollar amount
- Length of time
The amount of time a distributor will hold your product without penalty can vary, but 1 year is a common policy.
Knowing the size and cadence of orders helps you manage tight budgets and supply flow concerns.
#4: What's your on-time delivery track record?
Delivery time frames are critical to production schedules. Your distributor can be either part of the solution or part of the problem.
Inquire about the typical lead times for:
- Components stocked in-house
- Components ordered as needed
- Components that are out of stock
Of course, even the best supply chain management services become less effective at great distances. Consider your potential vendor’s geographic location and whether it’s a realistic fit with your business model. If you’re a billion-dollar company with locations all over the world, can your distributor handle that?
Some OEMs like to audit their electronics suppliers’ facilities to see their quality and safety measures up-close. If that sounds like you, consider a vendor within a reasonable range (and one that actually welcomes visits).
#5: How do you address availability issues, both proactively and reactively?
An overly reactive approach to electronic component sourcing is probably what has you distributor shopping in the first place. Component supply shortages have become all too common in the 2020s, but many are preventable.
Don’t buy into a distributor’s plan unless it includes contingency plans and preventative measures. Ask about the distributor’s:
- Component sourcing tools
- Ability to recommend alternatives for high-demand, obscure, or discontinued parts
- Policies for back ordering & allocation
Give higher marks to prospective dealers with a fair and transparent process for prioritizing part allocation and managing back orders. A good distributor doesn’t leave you surprised and suddenly unable to continue production.
#6: Can you schedule shipments?
Do you have to take the whole order at once?
Scheduled shipments allow you to nail inventory orders to specific dates on your production timeline. They also keep your facility space open (or prevent you from having to invest in more space).
#7: What are your prices and payment terms?
An electronic parts distributor pays less per component because it buys in bulk from its suppliers. Investigate how the dealer might pay it forward to you as the relationship develops:
- Price breaks & volume discounts
- Blanket-order discounts
- Discounts for shorter payment terms
- Discounts to take an entire order at once vs. warehousing it
Beyond sticker prices, there may be terms that impact your cash flow. Knowing a distributor’s credit limit policy is, say, $100,000 helps you plan payments more wisely.
#8: How flexible are your policies?
No relationship goes smoothly 100% of the time. Some electronic component vendors are more flexible about this than others.
Check the vendor’s return policy. Get a grasp of its procedures for defective or damaged components and its responsiveness to resolving these problems.
Stocking late fees may also come into play if your needs shift post-order. Check whether there are penalties (and their size) if the warehouse holds your stock beyond the agreed-upon time frame.
#9: How do you handle quality assurance?
Electronic components, especially those in high-risk industries like health care and aerospace, face some of the world’s highest quality standards. Your distributor’s quality-control standards should reflect positively upon your brand and your own customer’ experience.
While a distributor can’t fully guarantee its manufacturers’ parts are perfect every time, there are some steps it should take on your behalf:
- Basic program to identify quality issues
- Vast network of reputable suppliers
- Audit records
- Uses (or works with partners who use) procedures to weed out low-quality and fake parts
#10: Do you hold any certifications or hold suppliers to certain standards?
What better proof of quality than certification from the world’s top standards and agencies?
- ISO 9001:2015 – This must-have distributor certification is for electromechanical products in commercial and industrial applications.
- UL-friendly labeling – All components should include UL marking appropriate for the application.
- RoHS – Restrictions on Hazardous Substances compliance means your end products don’t contain meaningful amounts of banned materials like lead.
- REACH – Somehow standing for Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals, these regulations cover materials used in the manufacturing process.
- Conflict minerals – Components should never source raw materials in a way that benefits armed groups with a history of human rights abuses.
Distributors don’t necessarily own a RoHS, REACH, or conflict minerals “certification,” per se. But any partner you work with should always verify its suppliers’ material choices.
#11: Do you specialize in certain markets or components?
You may see a boost in results if your supply partner has expertise in your market vertical or the type of components you use most. It’s a simple matter of being able to produce better results at a faster pace:
- Understanding of unique requirements and standards, resulting in better-tailored recommendations
- Established relationships with manufacturers in the same vertical, granting you access to a wider range of solutions
- Predictive inventory levels based on knowledge of industry demand patterns, ensuring a reliable supply
- Prevention of design missteps thanks to vast experience recommending parts for similar customers, ensuring quick, cost-effective, and high-quality production
#12: What’s your supplier network like?
An electronic component distributor is only as good as its network. Its partnerships influence quality, lead time, and discount pricing.
Ask who and how many lines the vendor has franchised with. That way you’ll know whether they work with names you trust.
A broader network means you’re more likely to have access to obscure parts. You’re also more likely to have alternative avenues for obtaining common parts that run dry at one source.
#13 How long have you been doing this?
Between the rise of internet trading and the recent influx of small operations basically acting as brokers, sifting through supplier lists is exhausting.
Do business with vendors that measure their experience in decades, not years. A track record is the surest sign of future success.
If a supply chain partner suddenly goes under or stiffs you, the downtime could be enormous while you seek a replacement. Which is less likely to leave you hanging? A distributor with a proven cash flow and relationships? Or a random internet company with 6 years in business?
#14: Do you offer other value-added services?
When a top electronics distributor offers other top-notch services, you might as well take advantage. Getting several value-added services in one place saves labor and transportation overhead.
Besides inventory management, a distributor may offer other electronics fulfillment and design services:
- Component kitting – Bundling the necessary volume of components for your project in one box, making material handling easier and avoiding minimum-order constraints.
- Repackaging – Similar to kitting, but for a single component type
- Design assistance – A distributor with experience building products like control panels, circuit boards, & cables may be able to improve your design
#15: What kind of relationship can I expect with the customer service team?
This last one isn’t immediately tangible, but it has a huge impact on an electronics OEM’s success.
You value trust, reliability, and long-term relationships. Believe it or not, electrical component suppliers often want the same.
Before you agree to anything, gauge the vendor’s commitment to customer service:
- How quickly will reps respond to your calls and emails?
- How do they address mistakes resulting in poor or late orders?
- Will they prioritize certain favorite customers over you?
Electromechanical Manufacturers List
Partnering with the right electromechanical distributor gives you full coverage – not just for your own rear end, but also your entire production.
Vet your potential distributors for:
- Inventory management
- Logistical reliability
- Cost consolidation
- Quality-centric focus
- Shared business mindset
These questions will lead you to the electronic parts distributor that can best support your long-term success.
As you now know, a distribution partner is only as good as its own partnerships. To learn what you can expect from a supplier network, check out our full electromechanical manufacturer list:
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