NKK Switches, a maker of highly engineered switch products, wants to make its products available to as many customers as possible. The Japan-based component maker, which already sells about 75 percent of its volume through the channel, is increasing that level to reach more product development teams, consolidate market information and ensure the right NKK inventory is in place for its customers.
“Our products fit with distribution for a number of reasons,” says Marty Arch, national sales manager for NKK, based in Scottsdale, AZ. “Engineers design new products so we want to make sure we have as many part numbers available for them as possible. We also have to make sure we have the right inventory and the right product mix available for the engineering world and the supply chain.”
Suppliers have been reducing the number of customers they handle directly in part because their resources are limited – distribution salespeople can touch a wider number of smaller accounts than most suppliers can. Suppliers also prefer to allocate resources toward developing their next product, rather than break shipments down into various allotments; ship products to customers; manage customers’ supply and demand forecasts and perform a number of other functions distribution excels at. “Suppliers can’t manage all the needs of their direct customers,” Arch says. “Distributors can take an order for an entire bill of material (BOM) and have all the inventory the customer needs right in one place.”
At the most basic level, switches turn things on and off, which makes them essential for any electronics end product. But NKK has been looking beyond that functionality to expand both its product and customer base. “We have customization capability and we work with our distributors to not just sell a switch but to sell a quality solution,” says Debra Martin, senior marketing specialist at NKK. NKK products range from toggle, rocker and pushbutton switches to high-end solutions. “We can fill anything from a simple design to a complex design,” Martin says
NKK is not the biggest switch maker in the industry so it differentiates itself by selling highly-engineered products. Its most recent innovation is programmable switches. “Our SmartSwitch LCD and OLED devices are programmable and the OLED display on the switch can run live video which allows users to make real-time, informed decisions,” says Arch. “It uses pictures, words and text and can be programmed on the fly because that’s the way most people work. We do well in the broadcast market, where users can program their boards the way they want them.”
One application for programmable switches is in indicator systems, signaling excess heat or cold. “A good example is in the food industry where the switch can be programmed to signal the right time to flip a hamburger,” says Arch, “or in medical equipment to indicate when a laser is ready for use.” Arch says NKK takes information from customers, such as what applications its switches are used in, to develop new or better performing products. “We’ll take this information to our engineering team in Japan and see if there is a new vertical we should target,” says Arch. “Our salespeople and distributors keep their eyes and ears open to customers looking for a switch to do something; we pride ourselves on being able to customize something and are open to ideas like that.”
The channel, says Arch, has become more sophisticated in reaching out to customers and providing feedback to suppliers. This helps suppliers better manage their manufacturing and product flow. “They [distributors] have more feet on the street and compile information from different industries; they also provide spec sheets and everything the engineer needs in one place – engineers can even download a 3D CAD model,” Arch says. Samples are available the same day though distribution or directly from the company: NKK wants to be easy for customers to do business with.
The switch maker also provides in-depth training for its channel partners but supports customers directly as needed. “We go out to as many distributor branches as we can to train them in our products,” says Arch. “We also have manufacturers’ reps across the country that are well-versed in our products. We try to help [customers] with their engineering efforts and if we need to get a customer and a distributor on the phone together we will absolutely do this.” Once a component is selected, NKK’s distribution channel makes sure the device available when and where it’s needed. “One of the philosophies at NKK is to make sure we always have the right product mix in place,” Arch concludes.