4 qualities to look for in a kitting partner

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When a Fortune 500 medical company decided to outsource kitting for a 10-piece package, they knew it would increase productivity and save money, but they didn’t realize how big of an impact it would make. 

The firm was already using kitting (placing multiple product components together into one ready-to-ship package) to simplify fulfillment, reduce costs and boost efficiency, among other benefits. The team was previously managing kitting in-house, but they decided to outsource to save even more time, money and space. 

By leveraging a full-service kitting partner for everything from concept to delivery, the medical company not only increased production and lowered overall costs, but also regained valuable space to add production lines, freed up time and energy to focus on their core business and felt greater peace of mind around quality and safety.
 
The results they achieved are impressive, yet not uncommon. Keli Parker, Director of Kitting and Value-Added Services with Veritiv, shares the not-so-secret sauce.

What makes a good kitting partner?

When outsourcing, Parker says it’s crucial to work with a service-centric partner who can meet your needs today and in the future, no matter what comes your way. Here are the four key qualities she recommends looking for when evaluating your existing kitting partner or seeking out a new one.

 

1. Multiple locations across regions, including near you

Working with a kitting provider that has one facility or several concentrated in one area can cost more, slow down production and leave you in a lurch during times of disruption. If the kitting facility or team is impacted by a staff shortage, natural disaster or another unexpected incident, your kits may be delayed or completely inaccessible. 

On the other hand, when you work with a multi-location partner who has facilities close to you and in other regions and countries, you can enjoy a more predictable supply chain, faster delivery and greater flexibility to shift production as needed. Parker explains, “If you single-source, a disruption can shut down your production. But when you work with a multi-location kitting provider that focuses on service, you get a stable workforce and a partner who has contingency plans in place.” 

 

2. Tuned in to changing consumer demands

What consumers valued a few years ago is different than what they value today, and the same may be true a few years from now. 

Parker points to two examples: the rise in e-commerce and expectations for fast delivery. “E-commerce sales are growing quickly, and consumers expect things quicker now—often the next day,” she says. “The right kitting partner can help you meet those expectations by increasing speed to market and help reduce logistics costs of transporting kits across long distances.”

Consumers also care more about sustainability and the unboxing experience than they have before, putting pressure on companies to adapt quickly to earn and keep business. In addition, customer preferences vary from location to location. For instance, a food manufacturer may find that people in the south prefer peanut products, while those in the west prefer almonds. Different markets may see higher sales for certain types of container (e.g., jars versus cans) or buying channels (e.g., e-commerce versus brick and mortar). 

A kitting provider that is tuned in to trends like these can help your company standardize or customize kits accordingly and stay competitive as consumer behavior evolves. 

 

3. Flexible to accommodate shifts in your business changes

Every business goes through ups, downs and changes over time. The best kitting partners are able to rapidly adapt along with their customers’ needs.

Consider how the coronavirus has impacted companies around the world. Many manufacturers of food and beverages, medical supplies, cleaning solutions and other sought-after products could barely meet demand when it spiked and needed to scale up quickly. At the same time, makers of products with plunging demand, such as clothing and cosmetics, faced layoffs and furloughs. In the future, customers could return just as fast as they dropped off, causing similar scaling challenges. 

Parker says this is where having a flexible kitting partner pays off. “Some companies can't handle the peaks and valleys. Where [outsourced] kitting adds the most value is the ability to be flexible, agile and provide a stable workforce. That way, you can flex up and down as your demand goes up and down.”

 

4. Invested in automation and innovation

Like many other stages of the supply chain, the kitting process is being revolutionized by automation that increases efficiency, safety, quality and savings. Parker believes this trend will only continue growing, so she recommends working with a kitting partner who invests in the latest innovations and shares the benefits with their customers. 
 
“Labor costs and risks are increasing. The more you have people touching things, the higher the risk,” she says. “If you aren’t thinking ahead to automation and robotics, you’re going to be left behind. It can be difficult, expensive and risky to hire more people, so at Veritiv, we’re looking at automation, then supplementing with labor.”

Parker adds that equipment and kitting specialists who understand the nuances of line layouts, when to automate versus use manual processes and how to optimize workflows help you make smart business decisions, enhance safety and do more with less.

 

The right partner provides the whole kit—and caboodle

More than anything, a strong kitting partner allows your teams to focus on what they do best. “It’s really important in this new world we're living in to focus on your core competencies,” Parker explains. “You don’t have the time to solve complex kitting problems—you just want to reap the benefits. When you have the right kitting partner who can do that for you, you get to concentrate on your core business.”

In such an uncertain environment, outsourcing kitting to a flexible, innovative, multi-location provider with stellar service can instill more peace of mind. By working side by side with them, your company can look forward to protecting your workforce and your bottom line.