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Fostering connections in Quebec’s manufacturing industry

By Cheryl Long

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Putting companies in touch with potential suppliers and customers is one way that STIQ is both promoting and improving Quebec’s manufacturing supply chain.

Founded in 1987, the Montreal-based non-profit association has evolved from a database of suppliers located in just one of the province’s regions to a multi-industry association serving about 340 members and more than 600 companies.  Their mandate is quite straightforward; the association aims to help companies find suppliers, partners and customers, and help them make beneficial changes through their supplier improvement program. It’s a matter of connecting supply with demand throughout the manufacturing sector, said STIQ President and CEO Richard Blanchet.

“Most of our members will tell you that we put them in touch with potential customers or that a company became a customer because of our events. Others will say that because of our supplier program, they were able to get an objective and independent evaluation of their company,” Blanchet said. “We often hear, ‘You were able to put on paper my pros and cons in a very independent and objective way, which nobody did before.’”

With a focus on Quebec’s aerospace, transportation, energy, natural resource, and defense and security sectors, STIQ works to provide its members with high-quality services and programs designed to promote continuous improvement in supply chain development. The association hosts several events, including the Buyer/Supplier Day, a STIQ awards gala, a networking golf tournament, a manufacturing conference and a diverse range of industry training sessions. Members can take advantage of morning conferences or lunch & learn sessions, half or full-day seminars, or participate in exclusive onsite plant visits. As Quebec’s largest annual manufacturing industry gathering, the Buyer/Supplier Day is one of STIQ’s most popular events and sells out each year, Blanchet said. STIQ also publishes a weekly newsletter that keeps members updated on industry news, from new members and partners to worldwide manufacturing events.

Working to raise STIQ’s profile

Blanchet joined STIQ in 2004 after years of working in the technology and consumer products industries. He began as the association’s business development manager and was later transitioned, over a two-year period, into his current position as of January 2015. His goal is to raise the association’s profile by spreading the word about STIQ’s role in the industry and the benefit they can provide to a wide range of manufacturing companies. That means diversifying and becoming more active within an even broader range of industries.

“We have to go out, spread the word and tell other sectoral organizations that we’re there to work with them,” Blanchet said. “We have close relationships with OEMs and smaller companies, we can help manufacturers find customers and we have our supplier improvement program. This can be applied to many industries.”

The supplier improvement program, named Podium, is one of STIQ’s most beneficial services, designed to help suppliers develop their core competencies. Each program walks through several steps that include an evaluation, development of an action plan and implementation of projects aimed at making improvements alongside expert consultants. Later, STIQ will follow up with the company to determine if the original objectives were met. To date, STIQ has been involved in more than 250 company evaluations since the service was introduced in 2002, Blanchet said. And since 2009, Podium has helped create more than 650 skilled jobs in Quebec.

The association’s services are particularly helpful for companies that may be too busy to keep up with industry news, or not large enough to dedicate a person to the task. Whether it’s the opening of a new plant or the acquisition of a contract, STIQ tracks the latest happenings impacting the manufacturing industry and shares them through the association’s newsletter. A lot of time is also spent doing onsite visits with companies throughout the province or hosting networking events where members can see firsthand how another business within their industry operates and benchmark themselves.

Opportunities to find new customers

It’s a proven way to help STIQ members gain access to potential customers outside of their regular client base, Blanchet said. Even if a member doesn’t qualify to work with a particular customer or OEM — they might be missing a specific permit or certification — it helps to learn the changes needed within the company that would allow them to do business with that customer in the future. The opportunity for learning and improving business practices is a key benefit for STIQ members.

That’s important in an industry that can experience its share of challenges. Some of STIQ’s members have been growing steadily over the past three or four years, while others are still feeling the effects of the 2008 recession. For example, each year STIQ performs an industrial study with 400 manufacturing SMEs and they’ve found that many businesses continue to struggle with recruiting and retaining skilled labour.

“Some clients say, ‘I could have more business if I had more people. It’s not the sales force or the machines; it’s my ability to attract the specialized workforce to produce these goods,” Blanchet explained.

New business tough to generate

STIQ’s 2014 industrial study also found that getting a contract signed with a new customer is far more difficult in the manufacturing industry than increasing business done with existing customers. “Sixty percent of companies have less than 10 percent of their contracts generated by new customers. One-third of companies say 50 percent or more of their sales are concentrated among only three customers and that’s very dangerous, especially if their customers are within the same industry,” Blanchet said.

Those numbers are a driving force behind STIQ’s mandate to help member companies network and expand within the industry. Whether it’s a three-person operation or a large corporation, STIQ is determined to listen to their members and respond to their needs.

“What we do know is that we will evolve. We have evolved over the past years and we will in the future,” Blanchet said. “If we were still just a database, we wouldn’t be in business today.”

More details about the association and its services can be found at www.stiq.com.