Imagineear celebrates 10 years of partnership with long-time manufacturing collaborator, Dragon Sheng
On the 8th of August 2022, Imagineear celebrated the tenth anniversary of an unusually successful manufacturing partnership, marking the occasion with a conversation between Andrew Nugée, CEO of Imagineear, and Dragon Sheng, long-time manufacturing collaborator in China, moderated by Imagineear’s Charlotte Farrow.
Charlotte Farrow (CF): What do you both remember about the first time you met?
Andrew Nugée (AN): I feel fortunate to have been able to work with Dragon for the last decade – but I remember that we were wary of the relationship at the outset. We had previously worked with a manufacturer who, we felt, had not been honest. At such a distance, trust and honesty are of the utmost importance.
Reasons for our nervousness included that Dragon was young, with decent but not fluent English (and we spoke no Mandarin at all !), and that we never met the boss. But the products were good, and we thought his attitude was promising. This was by far our most important supply-side partnership; I came away prepared to give the relationship a chance.
Dragon Sheng (DS): At the first meeting, I was a little nervous and excited, but we had done enough preparation in advance, and we were confident in our ability to deliver the new product. In the event, we encountered problems during the first production run, for example the responsiveness of the TP (touch panel) and production consistency and QC (quality control), but we never gave up, and our engineering team continued to improve build quality and deliver a stable production run. Confidence is the foundation of success, we think.
CF: You obviously pioneered strong remote collaboration long before it became necessary more generally due to Covid… What have you found are the keys to making this work?
AN: There is no new insight here. The keys to a long-distance partnership, let alone one as mission-critical as this, is communication, transparency, early warnings, and trust. Negotiating tough terms, but sticking to them. And, when it used to be possible, spending time together, looking each other in the eye (even if while sometimes negotiating via Google translate). I hope this becomes possible again soon!
DS: I fully agree with you, my friend! Good communication is very important for the success of a long-term relationship. To be honest, we encountered many significant challenges exacerbated by the pace of hardware and software innovation. When we hit a problem, I would report it to Eric, CTO of Imagineear, in good time. Eric is a very professional, innovative and diligent engineer, and he is open and willing to accept any new idea. I still remember clearly that he talked with me on Christmas Eve of 2012 about technology difficulties with the new device. So we greatly appreciate Eric’s enthusiasm and professionalism.
When we or Eric come up against a technological problem, we face it together, and try to solve it. But we try to keep a long term vision in mind in the face of changes in our markets and fierce competition. And objectively our team and partner in London and the Netherlands has been very, very successful.
Trust is the cornerstone of long-term cooperation. We are confident that if Eric needs any support from China he will inform us, and we are of course glad to help. For example, we helped Eric repack the charging racks, and together we saved nearly 45% in freight costs.
CF: You both have other strong relationships in each other’s regions. What makes this collaboration stand out?
AN: It is true that we have invested considerable time and effort in the relationship and, ten years, three product lines and multiple generations of product later, I can say that however tough the negotiations, Dragon has not once let us down on the product. Both delivery and quality has been consistent and excellent, and we have always managed to face and overcome (the many!) technical and commercial obstacles together.
DS: Andrew, thanks a lot for your encouragement! Yes, perfect quality is the lifeblood of our company, and we always try our best to identify shortages and difficulties, and then work around them. In this process of continuous improvement and the pursuit of excellence, I would like to thank Eric and our teams for their efforts and patience.
CF: With the rapid pace of change in the world, how can we improve our existing products and develop new products? What is your plan for 2023 ?
AN: It is true that the pace of change is a challenge that, as SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises), we both face. However fast we innovate, larger technology companies are always ahead of us. Partly of course, I welcome this. I do not need to explain WiFi (or Bluetooth, or GPS or UWB) to my clients: Apple and Samsung do this for me.
Our ability to out-pace our competitors lies in continuous innovation and development. This in turn depends on building products which are precisely adapted to our clients’ needs and delivering them at the most competitive possible prices; so in the end, on growth. It is business growth that allows us to build at a sufficient frequency to innovate, and in sufficient volumes to be economic for Dragon. This is our plan for 2023.
DS: Indeed, the world is accelerating. We hope to find the problems found in the use of the product itself and make continuous improvements to improve the end customer experience.
In 2023, in the face of the instability of the chip supply chain, we hope to support customers in more stable, faster and cost-effective production and transportation.
CF: With the impact of COVID-19 on the world becoming more and more extensive, what can we do to address people’s concerns about health and environmental protection?
AN: Covid hit the pause button for Imagineear for two years, at a significant cost to us, and for society at large. I think, and sincerely hope, that our markets are now largely over the pandemic, and that Covid will increasingly be treated as just another endemic disease (though I recognise that this is not yet obviously true in China). Other macro-economic issues like inflation, supply chain friction, sluggish tourism growth – let alone global warming and protecting the environment – are handful enough to deal with!
During the pandemic I half-expected our clients to forego devices altogether for apps on their phones; but, although over a third of our clients are already now app-device hybrids, the demand we see for devices is greater than ever. The conclusion I draw from this is that we work best when we stick to our knitting, and build ever-better quality hardware with partners we know and trust, and deliver to our own clients at the lowest cost we can manage.
DS: Yes, COVID-19 has completely changed the whole world, but people are making continuous efforts to increase concerns about health and environmental protection. For example, we use safe and environmentally friendly boxes for transportation. They are nailed and strong, and we can use them repeatedly.
In terms of safe use of products, we strive for perfection to make products meet European standards and minimize the impact on human body in terms of radiation.
CF: What are the greatest successes of the partnership?
AN: Simply put, the fact that we have designed built, and delivered successful device platforms – and managed to occupy and hold a design leadership position on multimedia devices for our clients year after year. This has resulted from creative thinking in Europe, and creative, reliable and consistent manufacturing in Asia.
DS: Yes, I agree with you very much. Perfect products and constantly beating expectations creates value for customers; it is the greatest successes of the partnership.
CF: What difficulties and risks do you see in the future?
AN: Since we started building devices in Asia in 2008, electronics imports from China to the UK have grown by almost two thirds, from $12bn to $19.7bn in 2021. This booming global trade is threatened by post-pandemic constraints in the supply chain, increased transportation costs and delays, and trends towards greater economic assertiveness – all factors well outside our control. We are fortunate to have many years of collaboration to rely upon, which give us confidence, even if we cannot visit China for the moment, to keep calm and carry on.
DS: We are both very lucky to have worked long enough together to create a relationship of trust and continuous support. Despite the challenges, I believe we can cooperate better and better in the near future.
CF: Thank you both; and let us all look forward to a successful next twelve months!