How Contract Manufacturers Can Boost Supply Chain Transparency

Episode 98

August 25, 2020

Is the key to being a successful manufacturing brand actually getting out of manufacturing? In this episode of The Kula Ring, Carl Breau, the CEO of contract manufacturer Saimen, and Jean-Luc Hébert, Vice President, International Sales & Marketing, discuss how manufacturers are handing over production to contract manufacturers so they can shift their core competency to marketing and product development. They talk about how COVID-19 has accelerated the need for supply chain transparency and the role contract manufacturers play in marketing the manufacturing of authentic products.

How Contract Manufacturers Can Boost Supply Chain Transparency Transcript:

Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White. 

Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring, a podcast for manufacturing marketers brought to you by Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how are you doing, sir? 

Carman Pirie: I am doing wonderful, sir, and look, it’s good to be chatting with you on the only day of summer. I mean, here on the East Coast of Canada, we get summer for about a day, maybe a day and a half, and we’re gonna be able to remember 2020 summer, because here we are recording on that day. It’s blazing hot and it’s first thing in the morning as we’re chatting, so yeah, cool to be speaking with you and I’m really excited about today’s guests. 

Jeff White: Yeah, and I mean one of the interesting parts of this podcast is that we’re recording across multiple continents, and in two countries, which is really always very interesting and brings its own challenges.

Carman Pirie: But I want to promise our listeners that we’re not going to use our geographic dispersion as the key benefit of this-

Jeff White: The sole topic? Yeah. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, we’re gonna try to make it a little bit more interesting.

Jeff White: So, we have two guests joining us today. They’re both from Saimen, which is a contract manufacturing company, and joining us today we have Jean-Luc Hébert, who is the VP of International Sales and Marketing, and Carl Breau, who is the CEO. Welcome to The Kula Ring, gentlemen. 

Jean-Luc Hébert: Hey. Hello, Jeff. Hello, Carman. 

Carl Breau: Good morning. 

Carman Pirie: Wonderful for you to join us, gentlemen, and look, it’s great for Jeff to get a chance to try to work on his French pronunciation. I thought he did Jean-Luc Hébert really well, actually. 

Jean-Luc Hébert: Yeah, congrats. 

Jeff White: Years of French immersion finally pays off. 

Carman Pirie: Indeed, indeed. Gentlemen, let’s just get started. Perhaps Jean-Luc, you can go first. Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about Saimen as we get this conversation underway. 

Jean-Luc Hébert: Well, first, very nice to host us, and I can tell you guys that our summer here was two days ago, so we already have been through this, but it was nice. At Saimen, I mean look, I’ve known Carl for many years. In fact, when I was developing business internationally, he was working on manufacturing supply. We joined together for about three years, and for about a year and a half, we saw the need and the opportunity for contract manufacturing, and that’s what’s happening now. We see that more companies need to concentrate. My godfather was an engineer, and he was telling me, “Well, I had to choose at that time whether I would be electrical, mechanical, or civil. That’s it.” But, nowadays, an engineer can be software, computer, algorithm. It’s so specific. What I want to bring in this is every company developing a product or getting into business needs to be so developed and specialized in everything they need. 

They need to care about the branding, about the social media, about the vision, the everything, about the financing with the series A, series B, and C. There are so many things. It’s not something like putting a table and having Kool-Aid served. In order to help them there, they need to also trust companies who will be able to manufacture. Even getting to manufacture a product nowadays, you want it to be reliable, want it to be put on the market quickly. You want it to be commercialized everywhere, so you would need them to have spare parts. You need to even care about the import tariffs, HS code, and how to get the product at a decent price on the different markets to be able to be competitive. 

And that’s where we join in. We let the companies be able to focus on what they’re strong at. Developing the product, focusing on the R&D, the way they will sell, or rent, or bring licenses. The associations they will make with other companies. And while we will be doing the nuts and bolts, but also the manufacturing itself, the strategy about the materials, about the price… 

Carman Pirie: Now, I should tell our listeners, Jean-Luc, that Carl warned us about this, that you… Once you start talking, we may not be able to get you to stop. 

Jean-Luc Hébert: Sorry! This was my time. This was my time. I’ll let Carl go. 

Carl Breau: You see what I told you. Well, no surprise, right? But you can always work on the editing, you know? That’s sort of up to you now, right? 

Carman Pirie: It’s good fun, it’s good fun, but I appreciate Jean-Luc’s passion comes through as he talks about it. But Carl, perhaps give us the view from your side, and where are you joining us from today? Just so I recall. 

Carl Breau: I’m actually right now in Shanghai in China, so a little bit far away from home, because home is also Canada for me, but so who we are, we’re a contract manufacturer. We do mostly electronics and mechatronics. We have a factory here, but we have a pretty big engineering office, too. We’re a contract manufacturer that takes projects very early. A little bit like what Jean-Luc was saying, which is just sometimes the people, they just have the idea, or they have a prototype, and they’re looking to go to market, and we can help them out. So, finish a design for manufacturing and actually make the product, as well. 

Carman Pirie: Very cool, very cool, and Carl, when we were kind of teeing up this episode and having our initial conversations a week or so ago, you talked a fair bit at that time about how you saw companies morph, if you will, as they shifted from being a conventional manufacturer to perhaps distancing themselves from that a bit, handing that over to contract manufacturers that can specialize in the actual production. You said at the time that it ends up, and as Jean-Luc mentioned this just a brief second ago, that you really see that focus shift, and they become more marketing and product-focused, versus manufacturing and efficiency-focused. 

Carl Breau: Yes. 

Carman Pirie: And I’ve gotta tell you, as an industrial marketer, as a manufacturing marketer, that excited me. Very often, we look at marketing organizations and we see organizations that are sorely lacking in marketing focus. I guess unpack that a bit for me. How do you see that in your world, and what are some of the touchpoints?

Carl Breau: If we go back about 20 years, most companies that make a product in the USA or Canada or anywhere else around the world, they have their own factory, and then transitioning into a mode where most of them were actually already going to more of a model of doing their own R&D, and do their marketing, and actually doing the manufacturing with somebody else, who could be a contract manufacturer, or just a regular supplier. But I think there was a long time where they were sort of embarrassed about that. Not to say, “Well, we don’t want the people to know that we’re not manufacturing our product.” But to your point of there’s a transition, I think there’s a big touchpoint this year that’s accelerated by a few aspects. 

One of them is there’s just a term, the new marketing, which is about social media. What we’re doing today is really about content. There’s just so much content you can get from the customer side or from the product side. At some point, introducing the 17th color of the same product is not really big news anymore. You’re trying to find something that is maybe more interesting to people to be able to feed for social media. I think today what’s interesting, what’s relevant, is where does a product come from, authenticity. What are the materials? What is it made of? And actually, this type of information comes from the manufacturer. In this discussion, the contract manufacturer, so we just find that this year, we’ve been pulled into those sorts of social media conversations a lot more than we used to. 

Used to be almost like you know, please don’t mention the fact that we do business together. To today, which is almost the opposite, feed us as much sort of beautiful, authentic sort of content about our product, about our supply chain, about the people, and they feed that, I mean they being our partners or customers, they use that for their own content. I think that’s a big switch. 

Carman Pirie: Well, look Carl, in the time of COVID-19, clearly supply chain challenges have been front and center for a lot of businesses. Do you feel that some of it is simply a response to that? That they feel they need to be more transparent about that supply chain? Sounds like you were experiencing that before the pandemic, but you also happened to mention it was accelerated. 

Carl Breau: I think so, really. There’s also… I’m not sure how to call that. We call that backyard content, which is like nothing to do with the product or the factory. It’s just sort of contextual content, like us having operations in Canada but also in China. We had a lot of this peripheral content of talking about, “Well, how’s the pandemic in China now? You guys seem to have recovered before.” And things like this, which is not really totally related, but then this was attracting people to see, because I think it was still very relevant for us, and not so fresh now, but it was certainly fresh maybe three or four months ago to talk about, “China, we came out of it first. How do we feel now? What’s the new normal?” 

And using that content to feed, and of course, that part of it was very much accelerated by the COVID. I mean, at a certain point of time, I’m not sure exactly when, but certainly somewhere in March, I mean essentially we were, as opposed to Canada or USA, we were essentially one of the rare places that was picking up and starting to produce again, right? Essentially, we were the supply chain. The supply line, I guess by then. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah. It’s interesting. That sometimes gets a bit overlooked in this conversation around the supply chain challenges. Even some discussion about migrating away from Asian-based supply chains and things of that sort in order to try to gain more stability, when in fact it was some of those supply lines that actually reopened the earliest. 

Carl Breau: Yes. Well, that’s true, and then, where to locate your supply chain is… I don’t know if you ever did this exercise, but we used to do that a lot. We called it the center of gravity exercise. For example, say you’re trying to position your distribution center in the USA. You have to choose a location. To choose that location, there are many ways to do that in supply chain theory. One of them is very simple. You just have the geographical locations of your customers and then you give them a certain weight, and then you truly find the center of gravity of your customers, and that typically falls into somewhere between Illinois and Wisconsin, or whatever in the Central USA, and surprise! That’s where you find essentially 50% of all distribution centers in the USA. 

But my point is what’s happening now is it can also be done on the sales side for your buying, so you’re centralizing your purchasing, but you’re also sort of supplying your customers, and those centers of gravity, they’re migrating. There are a lot of companies from Canada who are actually used to be selling mostly to Canada or USA, but all of a sudden they’re selling more and more into Asia, into Australia, even into certainly Europe, and then once you take that into account, then it’s not so much a question of determining where do I put my manufacturing, contract manufacturing. It’s no longer, the best location is not necessarily in Canada. Or maybe you have one in Canada, and you have one located in Europe, and maybe one in Asia, maybe one in Africa. 

It’s not a line, and it’s not two-directional. It’s not only about onshoring and offshoring, as if this was just a straight line between the places that only make stuff with the place that only buys stuff, right? It’s getting a little bit more distributed than that, and when you make the actual calculation, if you do it in a structured way, then you get into a model where actually it doesn’t really only make sense to, even though there’s some logic in terms of saying, “Let’s produce what we make, or what we use.” When you do the real economics of it, it really depends where you’re selling, I mean where your supply chain is, if you want this to work economically. 

Jeff White: I have to think, too, that distribution and shipping really play greatly into this equation, as well. It’s no longer just the final mile to the final customer. Now it really is part of the whole supply chain is also how things go from the product producer, to the manufacturer, to the distributor, to the customer. I mean, shipping has become a massive, massive industry as part of this, as well. I imagine you play into that quite strongly, too. 

Carl Breau: For sure. Exactly. The point I think is one of saying about maybe China, or essentially a reshoring, and I think there’s another point I would like to make just on that. It’s one of during the COVID crisis, I think horizons were shrinking. I mean, honestly, in mid-March, I didn’t care about 2022 at all. I don’t care. I’m a manager. I should be thinking long term, what’s going to happen, the strategy. I didn’t care. I was caring about this month, and maybe next month, and maybe a little bit over this year, but that’s it. Just because you’re in a crisis mode, right? 

I think there’s a bit of that geographically, as well. I mean, because it became so complex at some point to go through of course transportation was disrupted, the customs were disrupted. It also became a point where I myself was thinking, “Well, let’s focus on our Chinese customers mostly, or Asian customers. Let’s focus mostly on our Asian or Chinese suppliers and let’s try to live with that for a while, because I don’t think Italy is going to be up for a while. The USA seems to be also a bit of a problem.” So, I think it was natural for us to shrink our horizon. But I don’t think we want to confuse the two. I don’t think we’d want to confuse the fact that in the short term, in crisis mode, we want to deal. We need to be much closer to where we are with something that makes sense. You look at it more objectively from a company that buys and sells all over the world. 

Carman Pirie: I appreciate that kind of dynamic, because of course it shifts to marketing, as well. It’s not just about your supply chain management. In the early days of the crisis, I think marketers, too, got fairly short, where they started focusing their energies were not on 2022 or 2023, but more on Q2 2020. And I guess I’ve noticed a similar thing going on with marketers now that we’re just about into August at the time of this recording, and there seems to be a bit more of over the last month or so, I think people are starting to look up above the horizon a little bit more and try to look a little bit further ahead and say, “Okay, we know we’re into some short-term turmoil here that isn’t likely to pass for six to 12 months or what have you.” But it’s encouraging at least on the marketing side, I feel, that people aren’t staying squarely focused on the next two weeks, but are starting to lift their head up a little bit more. 

Carl Breau: Yes. Yes. 

Carman Pirie: I trust you’re seeing that, as well. 

Carl Breau: We all went through the crisis mode. Crisis does change the dynamics of decisions, and certainly, one of those is just to focus more on the short term and what’s closer to you. That’s normal. I mean, to a certain extent, 50% of our concern is our family by then. And then you have the other 50% that has to be carried over to everything else, including contract manufacturing and marketing. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, exactly right. Yeah. It’s kind of a strange thing to combine sometimes in that way. I understand what you’re saying. 

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Carman Pirie: I’d be curious. As you’ve seen this shift towards contract manufacturers now being more a part of the marketing dialogue, more a part of the market conversation, you’re not having to hide behind a white label, but rather your manufacturing expertise and talents are being surfaced by those brands. How do you find that manifesting itself? What are the types of things that you’re doing that you find yourself doing this year, last year, that you weren’t doing a year or two ago from the point of view of transparency? What are some of the I guess touchpoints for that? 

Carl Breau:  I think there’s quite a few examples of that, of us and other contract manufacturers. We did some webinars with some customers, which was very interesting. It used to be we would feed content to the customer, the customer themselves would do the webinar or try to present. That’s the best example, the first example, is just doing joint webinars. All of a sudden we’re sitting with the company that is essentially the owner of the product, that’s doing the marketing, and then we’re invited into a webinar along with them as their contract manufacturer. I don’t think we’ve seen that before, really. That’s really something totally new this year. 

And if I try to explain why that happened in the cases we were involved in, I think a little bit like we were saying at the very beginning. I think this year, it’s a fundamental trend overall of authenticity, of wanting to know where the product you’re buying comes from, who’s the face behind the actual manufacturing? We live in the world that is so much online, and the web, and everything, it’s like today talking about something like a factory, and you’re a brick and mortar, is like, “Wow! Really?” So fresh and new, and you have people there, and they have a story, and it’s almost like we disappeared for a while. Nobody was interested in brick and mortar, and learning about machines, and properties, and materials, and if they were sustainable, and then all of a sudden it’s not just because of the fact that there’s so much demand for content. I think it’s part of a bigger trend, where people want to know where the products they buy come from and what’s the story behind them? 

Carman Pirie: I can’t imagine that. It just feels to me like this must be a huge challenge, especially the family-based manufacturers. I’m thinking about manufacturing companies that are third, fourth generation, so the great-great-grandfather started the factory, and a lot of those organizations have moved to mixed manufacturing models, where some of their products are being manufactured say in China or elsewhere, and then others are being manufactured in their own factories, like you say in Wisconsin, or in Illinois, or what have you. So often, it seems like the only ones they wanted to talk about, of course, are the factories that they own. It’s gotta be a huge mind shift, I would think, when you start speaking to them as a contract manufacturer about another way, a more cooperative way if you will, of going to market. 

Do you find that results in that dog watching TV kind of sideways head tilt every once in a while? It must be a bit of a shift for them, for sure. 

Carl Breau: It’s true. I think it’s also driven, honestly, by the fact that Asia is just becoming now not just a manufacturer but also a market, so actually it creates other beautiful stories. In our case, could be another example in another country, but if we speak for our story, our story is also about helping some of the customers that we have to be competitive into the Asian market. Sell here. Be successful here. In some cases, sell more here than they sell even back in Canada or the USA. That becomes a story, as well, right? Just the one saying, “Well, you know, it’s a new world now.” I learned that the G7 was what, like a USA, a Japan, Canada was there somewhere. If you look at the real G7 today, Canada’s not there anymore, and you got things, people like China, India, it’s not at all the image we used to have of where the big markets are. We all know that. 

But it also affects these discussions, which is just one of saying, “Well, all of a sudden, there’s a nice story to tell of our expertise as a company now…” If you look at Apple, not to oversimplify a very complex story, but it seems to me that it’s pretty obvious that essentially they cared about their users, they did beautiful design, they become experts in product design and development, and essentially they just outsourced all of their manufacturing to somebody who was competent and could do it at a good price, no matter where they were located. And that worked out very well for them, so I think this sort of dynamic is very present, and it’s something very natural that’s appearing. 

Jeff White: I love to hear Apple used as an example for something other than how they do their marketing, because we’re constantly in conversations with people who, “If you could just make it look like Apple’s design,” or their webpage, or maybe like Google’s. To reference it more from how they choose to structure their supply chain perspective, it’s a much different lesson, I think. 

Carl Breau: It’s well known that the decision at Apple to go to contract manufacturing was actually made by Cook, who’s now the CEO. He’s essentially a hero for that decision, the one of saying, “You know, I don’t want to spend so much. We have limited resources. We have beautiful ideas, some great ideas. Let’s just focus on doing good design, good marketing, essentially managing.” One of the things they do very well, it’s just one opinion amongst many others, but it’s just managing that sort of dichotomy of pushing the envelope, technical, but keeping it sort of technically feasible. We do that. And once the product is ready to go, actually we don’t manufacture it. 

I would think for them and for many other companies, IBM was the original company going to contract manufacturing. For many of those companies, it seemed to be a bit of an unusual move for them, but it’s obvious, it’s allowed them to really focus more on the product and not so much on the day-to-day operations, which are really sort of, it’s not only about resources. It’s two things that are fundamentally different from a management perspective. To manage creativity and to manage productivity, essentially. Not to oversimplify, but I think it’s not the same. It’s hard to do if you’re the same person.

What do you do? One day you’re creative, the other you’re trying to save every penny. It’s hard, right? But if you become in that model, then this seems to become a little bit more natural. The marketing, I think, is of course the gist of this discussion here. But I truly believe now that it used to be that marketing in the place like Apple… I’m sorry, I’m sort of going back to marketing and Apple, even though you just said we’re sort of tired of hearing that, but anyway, just temptation is too big. Even if you look at Apple as a marketing powerhouse, they’re getting more about where the product comes from. Everybody is going into the supply chain issues now. You cannot just dissociate the marketing now. It’s so much about being authentic, and having so much information, and you have to pull in some of the elements from your supply chain. There’s just no way out of it. 

Carman Pirie: I think it’s interesting that we’ve learned this lesson a lot from consumer companies. Nike, everybody knows Nike doesn’t actually make their shoes. They just design the shoes. They’re a brand and marketing company, fundamentally. They’re not a shoe manufacturer, really. I think part of what you’re saying, Carl and Jean-Luc, is that there’s an opportunity for manufacturers well beyond those consumer goods to take that same approach. Not that they don’t already, but to actually more embrace it, and I do think that is a challenge for a lot of the industrial manufacturers that I talk to, and maybe don’t think about it in quite that same way, and I love the notion of it opening up the possibility for flexing those muscles on marketing a little bit more. And you’re quite right, Carl, I think it can be challenging to manage both creativity and productivity at the same time. They seem to be very opposed often. 

I think we could do an entire episode just on that, frankly. Because I think it’s probably the heart of a lot of the struggles that manufacturing marketers feel as they exist within their manufacturing organizations, is that they feel that they’re the one side of it that kind of operates a bit differently than the rest of the organization. You know? 

Jeff White: You could say they think different. 

Carman Pirie: Oh, man. 

Carl Breau: It’s a proportion. Of course, there’s creativity and productivity, and there’s productivity and creativity, but I think fundamentally, those are very different things, you know? And I mean what we’re saying also sort of brings something to me about contract manufacturing. It’s a little bit like the sharing economy. Let’s say us four guys, we decide to create our new company, our new startup. We’re gonna be sharing cars, we’re gonna have a shared office. Maybe even share a computer, and share a lot of things at the beginning, and then it seems that contract manufacturing is like sharing your factory, right? I mean, there’s something fundamentally there about the economy essentially supporting startups, where it’s no longer necessary to have everything on your own and under your own roof and own everything. 

At this point, it’s just essentially about just choosing the right partner for every small need that you have, and I think it’s good in that way, as well. And just to reemphasize something that I truly think is true, and I think Jean-Luc would probably support me on that as well, is I think some things you don’t want to pull out. I think some things, you have to stay very close. And for example, marketing, and of course finance, I mean of course you can find a partner to do your marketing, but essentially what drives your company, and your business model, and the fundamental what you are, that has to be inside. You don’t want somebody else deciding what sort of product or long-term strategy your company should have. People can give you advice, but I think those are core things. But I don’t think manufacturing is one of them, really. 

Jean-Luc Hébert: Yep. Exactly. 

Carman Pirie: Yeah, it’s interesting. I wonder if even a focus on one drives you to an inability to focus on the other. Is the key to being a successful manufacturer 5, 10 years from now, is the key to it getting out of manufacturing? Is the key to being a successful manufacturing brand actually getting out of manufacturing, so you can shift that core competency to marketing and product development? 

Carl Breau: Yes. 

Carman Pirie: That’s-

Jean-Luc Hébert: That’s true. 

Carman Pirie: That’s a fun little mental exercise to play around with. 

Carl Breau: Yeah, that’s the thing of focus, right? It also goes a little bit back to something Jean-Luc was saying, which is just the fact that things are getting more complex. Used to be you could make a table, and with wood and some screws, and people would buy that. They’d be happy. Now, it has to be connected to Wi-Fi, and you have to be able to disassemble it easily and folding. It seems there’s nothing we can do now that doesn’t have some sort of level of complexity, and that’s just the product. And then, of course then you go to marketing. Used to be, you’d buy an ad in the newspaper and essentially you got business. But now of course, it’s multimedia, pushing content. You still have to put the ad in the newspaper in some cases even, so everything gets so fragmented and complex that you need to choose, a little bit to your point, what you focus on, and essentially choose what you’re going to leave other people to do, even though maybe you would like to do them, or maybe even could be good at it. 

Jeff White: I think that’s really interesting. Jean-Luc, I wanted to come back to you and just ask what you’re seeing on the ground, because you’re based here in North America, in Canada, and how are you seeing in the discussions that you’re having with the companies that are looking to manufacture with you? What are they saying as they come to you? 

Jean-Luc Hébert: Yeah. Actually, it goes back to many things that were discussed here, that were interesting. First, when we see other countries, we need to stop seeing other countries as a way to manufacture for less cost, like it’s cheap labor. It becomes more as Carl was saying, an opportunity for market development there. Because there might be sometimes not such a difference manufacturing in one country to the other, but it’s more about how we’re going to sell there. And the other thing about the shared economy, and also what Carman was asking about, what kind of shift we saw in the way we can introduce the contract manufacturing, what we see over the last years is a huge increase in Montreal, and we see a lot of accelerators and incubators, it’s like every university is having now, whether it’s engineering, or even in business schools, they open ways to help companies start to help people start to develop their idea and become something that they could develop a product and sell it. 

But then we are coming, and that’s the discussion we have now with more and more people, is they see our box. On a map, you see the dots of incubators, and accelerators, and then the financial support and stuff that now more and more people need to kind of develop the manufacturing possibility of the product, and that’s where contract manufacturing arrives. We are the next block on the road of development, and the other thing we see also is that a lot of companies are basing the development on software, like a new app on the phone. What are we, we see a startup first, we had that in Montreal, I would say that two thirds of the companies base their development on this. But then it becomes quick that they will feel where our app would be so much better if we had a kind of a toy or something physical that could either send something, or be positioned to wear, or bring a functionality, and that’s where they stop. 

And then when they realize that, well, just have the idea, make some drawings, bring the concept, and we’ll be able to manufacture it for them. They can continue to be a company developing software, but they do not need to care about manufacturing. That’s a big trend we see now here in Canada, I would say. 

Carman Pirie: And then of course you have the reverse happening, where the traditional product manufacturers are now adding on software layers, and apps in front of their products. I love the juxtaposition between those two things. The older companies having to innovate by bringing software onto their products, and the younger people starting from a software-first mentality.

Jean-Luc Hébert: I’m still having fun when I show my friends my new barbecue that I just bought this summer, which has, believe me or not, I have a Wi-Fi connection that tells me the temperature getting on the chicken and stuff. Who would have thought about it five years ago? It’s a phone-connected barbecue and it works very well. 

Carl Breau: Where’s this world going to? That’s my question. 

Carman Pirie: Gentlemen, I feel like we’re gonna have to stop there, because Jeff is a barbecue smoking enthusiast, and if we get him down that train of thought, we’ve got another half hour to go. 

Jeff White: At least. Yeah. Especially if we’re talking gadgets. 

Carl Breau: Just another something I would like to mention. It goes back to a question you had earlier, Carman, about what sort of new opportunities we see in co-marketing between us and our customers, and I mentioned the webinars. I also see another thing is the fact that sometimes the contract manufacturers like us, we’re more established. We’ve been there, we have many customers, we manufacture for many companies, and then one goes, and then all of a sudden one of the things was also accelerated by COVID, obviously, is the fact that all of a sudden you had all these manufacturers that really need to go online, go digital, and then try to sell online and get visibility and things like this. You got these people all of a sudden saying, “How many people are following us on LinkedIn? Or on my personal account, do we even have a company account on LinkedIn? Or maybe we do, and we have seven followers or something.” 

All of a sudden, you also have that trend of saying, “Who’s got a window open on social media? Who’s got followers? Who’s got people who are essentially listening or playing a role, influencers?” And I’m not saying we are, but I certainly think that in this type of collaboration, we did discover that amongst this network of customers and partners that we have, some had much more sort of followers and visibility online than others. Those type of collaborations also accelerate this visibility that you have. 

For example, we did some posts on LinkedIn, for example, not to do a LinkedIn ad, but still. I could say on social media where we were directly advertising the product of our customer. We were using some sort of a content twist, it was still relevant, not just an ad, and then essentially using our presence online to be able to help them back. The same way, we were also looking to, out of the people that we have, and I have an example here of somebody in Shanghai who had like 25,000 followers on LinkedIn, a very influential person online. We’re working with him to talk about us. We talk about him. And try to get that engagement as well, which is also one way of trying to reach the market if you’re going online. Because going online successfully, at some point you need that transition. We talk about the one-to-one-million transition. It’s like if you go from you and your seven friends, and their seven friends have seven friends, you’re up to 49. That’s not enough for a campaign. 

You have to find who’s really gonna give you that reach that you need to be able to work on, because it’s all about numbers by then if you’re trying to sell online. Essentially, if you have 200,000 people visiting your website every day, no matter what you sell, you’re gonna be selling. But if you got two people, you’re not. So, there’s that dynamic as well that comes into play. 

Carman Pirie: Carl, I appreciate you and Jean-Luc both giving us insight into I guess a bit of a new cooperation or shared economy that might be emerging as a result of COVID. If that’s the one contribution we can make today is to look at this and put a bright side spin on it, then I think we will have done our job, so I thank you very much for sharing your experience and expertise with us today on The Kula Ring. It’s been a pleasure. 

Carl Breau: Great pleasure. Thank you for having me. 

Jean-Luc Hébert: Thank you very much. 

Jeff White: Thanks very much. 

Announcer: Thanks for listening to The Kula Ring, with Carman Pirie and Jeff White. Don’t miss a single manufacturing marketing insight. Subscribe now at That’s

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Carl Breau


Carl Breau is a Canadian engineer based in Shanghai and is the CEO of Saimen Group, a group of seven Canadian and Chinese registered companies active in the manufacturing and entertainment sectors. Carl holds a master’s degree in Engineering, is a UCLA Certified Board Member and has over 10 years of direct China management experience in Multinational companies. He has also worked in senior management positions in SMEs and stock traded companies in North America and Europe. He speaks fluent mandarin and is a frequent speaker and university lecturer on the topic of doing business in China. His expertise is China business and operations. Carl was awarded the Exceptional Achievement Medal from the Canadian Council of Engineers in 1999.


Jean-Luc Hébert

Vice President, International Sales & Marketing

Jean-Luc Hébert is Vice President, International Sales & Marketing of Saimen, based in Montreal, Canada. He graduated from McGill University as an electrical engineer, and then worked for over 15 years as a manufacturing engineer and IT Manager at IBM. During 10 years, he developed the Asian market for the Canadian pipe organ builder Casavant Frères. Having travelled over 60 times selling and managing projects in Asia, Jean-Luc brings a considerable knowledge and experience in international business development and project management.

The Kula Ring is a podcast for manufacturing marketers who care about evolving their strategy to gain a competitive edge.

Listen to conversations with North America’s top manufacturing marketing executives and get actionable advice for success in a rapidly transforming industry.

About Kula

Kula Partners is an agency that specializes in maximizing revenue potential for B2B manufacturers.

Our clients sell within complex, technical environments and we help them take a more targeted, account-focused approach to drive revenue growth within niche markets.


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