Catching up With Greg Papandrew


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It’s always great to catch up with old friends, and last week, I met with Greg Papandrew, a well-known industry entrepreneur, who I worked with on his first company (Bare Board Group). Greg discusses his new business, Better Board Buying (B3).

Dan Beaulieu: Greg, thanks for spending some time with me today. A lot of people are talking about your new endeavor, and I’d like to find out more about it myself.

Greg Papandrew: Sure, Dan. It’s my pleasure as well. Better Board Buying (B3) was founded earlier this year, but I’ve been considering becoming a PCB buying consultant for some time now. I have sold PCBs successfully for over 25 years and pioneered a number of innovative approaches for getting competitively priced, high-mix, low-to-medium volume PCB manufacturing from Asia. Successful board buying isn’t necessarily hard, but it does require a strategy, as well as a deep understanding of how PCB manufacturers operate. Many PCB buyers and program managers have not had the opportunity to acquire this kind of knowledge and don’t know how to obtain it. It’s quite surprising that in this multibillion-dollar industry, most of those tasked with buying PCBs have had no formal training. I realized that while there are plenty of PCB salespeople out there, there is no certified training program on how to buy circuit boards.

Beaulieu: You have me interested. What exactly do you do for your customers?

Papandrew: We provide a dedicated training program that gives buyers the tools they need to do their jobs better by offering detailed information and instruction. We demonstrate how to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of both offshore and domestic manufacturing sources. In addition, we show you how to leverage buying power to get the best pricing and expertly navigate sourcing issues.

Beaulieu: You talk about saving up to 25% of the board price. How can you do that?

Papandrew: B3 teaches its clients how to get closer to the vendor by removing those expensive middleman links from the supply chain—also known as PCB brokers. EMS companies should be asking themselves questions like these:

  • Why can’t I send CAD files, request a quote, and get a timely response, just like a broker?
  • Why can’t I receive WIP and SHIP reports directly from the factory?
  • Why must another entity be involved to ensure PCB quality?
  • Why do I have to hear, “Let me get back to you,” when asking a simple delivery or status question?
  • Why should I pay a broker’s markup that is 20–40% above factory cost to basically relay benign information?

B3 gives its clients the confidence to deal directly with PCB manufacturers, whether they are down the street or halfway around the world. Board buyers do not need to go through pricey brokers. The U.S.-based broker model is obsolete and outdated, and it’s an unnecessary expense.

Beaulieu: I’m not sure this approach has been taken before. You were once a broker yourself. Now, you’re saying that the model is no longer effective.

Papandrew: What once worked well for PCB buyers is no longer the best option for them. The broker model is no longer effective because Asian companies have become more globalized and sophisticated in dealing directly with the North American market. They have their own sales teams who are fluent in English and dedicated to reaching out to customers in the West. There is simply no longer a need for board buyers to pay for an expensive middleman to relay information.

I started B3 to give EMS and OEM companies the confidence needed to deal directory with the same PCB manufacturers that brokers have been using for years. And interestingly, most of the brokers use the same subset of overseas manufacturers. That is what my training program is all about, and it's bolstered by my 25 years of experience buying PCBs offshore.

Beaulieu: I would think this training program would be especially good for contract manufacturers. I know many of them, especially the ones under twenty million dollars in revenue, find dealing with PCB vendors a challenge, and could use your services. Are you marketing to them at all?

Papandrew: Absolutely! I’m always surprised at how many EMS companies talk about the importance of supply chain management while not providing any training to their PCB buyers. While there are companies that provide training on every aspect of PCB assembly, I don’t know of anyone except my company, which offers specific to PCB buyer training. Wouldn’t an EMS company want to be able to say its buying team is trained to get quality PCBs at the best pricing?

Beaulieu: I couldn’t agree more. OEMs would also benefit from your training as well.

Papandrew: OEMs would definitely benefit from the training, but by visiting many EMS companies, I’ve found they need it the most. Unlike OEMs, who buy for a specific product line or industry, EMS buyers face a plethora of product lines, meaning exposure to many different technologies and the need to use a variety of PCB suppliers. And it is that training—required for proper vendor selection (vetting), order placement (scheduling), and best pricing (negotiating)—that is severely lacking in our industry.

Beaulieu: Let’s talk about how the program works. How do you work with a client?

Papandrew: In order for this training program to be effective, I need to have some granular knowledge of my client’s operation. That’s why a non-disclosure agreement is put in place before we proceed. Then, I send a questionnaire to my client, asking for detailed information about board buying processes in the client’s operation. This information needs to be provided before the training so that I can create a customized program to meet my client’s specific needs.

The training session can be as short as a half-day, as the customer may only need some tweaking to their purchasing operation. It could also be as long as two full days, where a complete overhaul is required. Clients will receive a certificate of completion.

Beaulieu: You also help provide a good knowledge set of skills on how to buy boards. Where do you see this company going in the future?

Papandrew: I envision B3 as the go-to PCB training organization with regionally scheduled training events certifying PCB buyers and program managers in the U.S. and in Europe. Individual or on-site training will be available as requested, along with online courses being offered. The industry is constantly changing, so a re-certification or continuing education course would be required every 2–3 years.

Beaulieu: What makes you the best-qualified person to offer this service?

Papandrew: I am in a unique position as I have been both buyer and salesman. For me to have sold over $250M in the last 25 years means I had to buy over $200M boards to do that. This is not my first rodeo. I know what works and what does not. I know many of the industry players, and I have long-term relationships in the United States and overseas.

Beaulieu: As we wrap up, I’d love to hear your opinion of what is going in with our industry right now.

Papandrew: We’ve all heard that the world is getting smaller all the time. That’s as true in the PCB industry as anywhere else. With the advent of communication technology, such as WeChat, Skype, and Zoom, board buyers can easily talk directly to their offshore factories. And the level of customer service in these factories has greatly matured. Buyers simply don’t need to pay for a middleman anymore. Especially in the current environment, as we’re facing tariffs and an ongoing trade war, any costly and superfluous links in the supply chain need to be cut out. I can show PCB buyers and program managers how to do that without compromising quality or delivery performance.

Beaulieu: I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today. Best of luck on your new venture.

Greg: It’s my pleasure, Dan.

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