When Joseph Garcia considered attending Toyota's Opportunity Exchange (OE) Trade Show for the first time in November 2002, he had recently founded Garcia Packaging, a startup packaging company with 10 employees. Now, just two years later – and thanks primarily to a single contact he made at Toyota's one-day event – Mr. Garcia's company has grown to 50 full-time employees and has added $2 million worth of annual revenue. What a difference a day makes.
"I wasn't sure I was going to go to the trade show," Mr. Garcia now recalls, "but of all the major trade shows this was the only one that invited all certified minority business enterprises (MBEs) to attend for free, so it seemed like a good investment of my time." He also liked the fact that Toyota has its own direct suppliers participate as exhibitors at the trade show for the specific purpose of building business relationships with MBEs. As part of its commitment to minority business development, Toyota is committed to finding new and different ways of helping MBEs grow their companies. Last year's OE included over 250 of their direct suppliers and over 1600 people attended. Opportunity Exchange has generated over $95 million worth of business for minority owned companies and the numbers keep growing. Most interesting is the idea that although OE is a one-day event held in one city, the results are long-standing and far-reaching.
"Opportunity Exchange has been phenomenal for us," says Mr. Garcia. "I especially like the set up: all of the prospective customers are right there in their booths so I can see everyone I need to. This show is so productive for our company that I've begun holding a competition among my sales people to determine who gets to go each year. I tell other business owners to go to Toyota's Opportunity Exchange to see a real supplier diversity program at work."
The founder and CEO of Garcia Packaging remembers his first Opportunity Exchange as if it was yesterday. "I was at the event and had just sat down at one of the lunch tables. A production materials manager from NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing Incorporated, a plant located in Fremont, California) walks right up and sits down. We started talking and it turned out that he used to work for a packaging company so he immediately understood what my company sold. He wasn't the decision-maker for our products, but, true to his word, he put me in touch with the people I needed to see and within two months we were supplying that plant."
"Over the past two years our direct business with Toyota has grown to about $1 million annually and not only that; they have also introduced us to some of their large, direct suppliers - the same kinds of companies that attend Opportunity Exchange – and we now book an additional $1 million a year with those Toyota suppliers. Our relationship with Toyota has grown into more of a partnership than the traditional supplier/customer relationship. They treat us very well and they trust us enough to identify additional opportunities for us, which is the truest test of their faith in our capabilities. It's a funny thing, but that kind of support persuades you to want to become even better at what you do."
Garcia Packaging is a full-service packaging supplier, providing customers with returnable, expendable and miscellaneous packaging, the three types of packaging used to deliver parts to large-scale manufacturing operations. Returnable packaging includes shipping racks, large pallet boxes and smaller handheld totes, all of which are used repeatedly; Expendable packaging generally refers to cardboard or chipboard containers which are disposed of after they've been used; and Miscellaneous packaging includes such items as pallets, tape and plastic banding for other containers.
Garcia's creativity comes in helping customers find ways to squeeze additional value out of their existing investment in packaging. Many companies typically discard their stock of containers once the factory begins ordering a new type of part. It helps to understand that some of Garcia's customers may own up to $250,000 worth of containers, so assisting these customers with finding ways to re-use, re-fit or re-manufacture their containers instead of simply discarding them amounts to a significant savings. Explains Mr. Garcia, "we have re-manufactured containers that we made for the customer originally as well as being brought in to retrofit containers purchased from other suppliers. Sometimes, for example, a large container must be customized to accommodate a new, odd-sized part. Whatever the need, we focus on adding value for our customers."
"I was a packaging engineer at the plant level for six years before starting my company and I'll never forget how people always thought of packaging in the same boring way. They'd tell me 'Joe, you just take a part and you throw it in a box.' Well, at Garcia Packaging we're determined to think outside the box, and you'd better believe we'll be at Toyota's Opportunity Exchange this year because they seem to like thinking outside the box, too."
This year's 15th Annual Toyota Opportunity Exchange will be held at the Greater Cincinnati Convention Center on Thursday, November 4 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Although there is no charge for this event, you must register in advance to attend. Space is limited and admission will be on a first come, first served basis. To register online, please go to http://www.toyotasupplier.com, click on the Supplier Diversity link and then, after the new page opens, click on the registration link in the lower left-hand corner.
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