When Is The Best Time To Do Make vs. Buy?

When Is The Best Time To Do Make vs. Buy?

By: Jim Gitney   |     April 19, 2013

Make vs. BuyI was recently speaking with a client about Make vs. Buy. We were discussing when the appropriate time was for doing that kind of analysis. The natural assumption is that world class organizations are doing that kind of analysis whenever a new product program or a major new contract is being worked on. It should be part of every analysis to provide continuous feedback to the Manufacturing organization and the business’s executives. Make vs. Buy analysis will tell you how competitive your operation is and whether you should continue to invest in those operations, and if appropriate, bring operations in-house. We recently completed a study of competitiveness looking at 89 countries and all 50 states. Click here to see our latest study on Mexico vs. China. The results indicate that manufacturing in the US and Mexico has become much more competitive when you look at the supply chain life cycle cost of a product. This has occurred in just a few short years, and, when taking into consideration the expected labor and material inflation rates outside of the US, the story becomes more compelling. Now is a great time to re-look at your supply chain options. A good Make vs. Buy analysis should provide you insight into these areas:

  • Product life cycle: New, developing or mature
  • Cost of operations
  • Cost of Capital
  • Capital required and expected ROI and NPV
  • Total product cost including support
  • Total change in supply chain costs
  • Impact of outsourced operations on customers
  • Changes in working capital requirements
  • Assessments of response time and order fulfillment
  • Competitors sourcing strategy review

Doing a good job on this is tough and requires a lot of work, but the competitive intelligence and insight into the operations you gain is invaluable. A good Make vs.Buy analysis will also consider soft side issues as well as shown in the presentation above. Most businesses have spent much time and money on developing their manufacturing and processing skills. They may use in-country presence as a selling point to their customers. It may even be a strategic advantage. Outsourcing manufacturing, closing down a factory, laying off people and working with another company (maybe in a foreign country) requires that the company carefully consider the impact of losing that manufacturing skill and technology sharing when intellectual property is involved. Existing organization structures need to be revisited when outsourcing operations because it requires a much more focused supply chain group with a different set of skills. Most companies who have never outsourced to a foreign manufacturer don’t understand the requirements for doing so. So, a good analysis will also consider:

  • The ability to build a more competitive and sustainable supply chain
  • More focus on product management and product development
  • Technological advantages that potential suppliers offer
  • What the competitors in the market place doing
  • Business process changes required to support complete outsourcing
  • The amount of capital freed up for other corporate, market or operational activities

Many companies view outsourcing as a way to focus more of their capital on new products, market development, etc. Any time a company can focus more capital on growth, it should. Outsourcing is a possible solution that enables the company to move more money into these business development activities. The outsourcing effort, if done properly will provide two benefits:

  • Alleviate the need to invest heavily into new equipment and new processes allowing more money for business/product development
  • Lower the cost of the product (if sourced properly), increasing profitability or providing the opportunity to more easily compete on price

The issues that need to be considered for in-sourcing are exactly the same with the exception that in-sourcing will likely be a capital consumer. Make vs. Buy needs to be done carefully and strategically. When the right time strikes, manufacturers should move quickly to take advantage of the opportunity to better understand how productive and competitive its supply chain approach really is. Manufacturers should consider finding an expert to help them do the proper planning and analysis and to develop a Total Cost of Ownership model for the decision making process. They need to find someone who has specific expertise in outsourcing and in-sourcing and the project management skills to help plan it. They also need to understand the supply chain life cycle cost and how to financially model it. If done well, it can yield amazing results for the company on both the top and bottom line and a significant amount of business intelligence.


To find out more about our manufacturing & distribution consultancy services you can read more. If you want to find out more about our recent competitive study, you can make a request here. or call us at (909) 949-9083 or email us at info@group50.com.

About the author: Jim Gitney is the CEO of Group50 Consulting and specializes in the development of manufacturing and supply chain strategies. Jim and the Group50 team are all former executives with well known manufacturing and distribution companies who understand what it takes to put together and manage a successful outsourcing or in-sourcing plan. 

This entry was posted in Continuous Improvement, Global Initiatives, Manufacturing and Distribution, Mexico, on April 19, 2013


  • Peter Calka April 26, 2013 at 5:04 am

    Excellent article.
    I had worked over seas as a outsourcing contractor for several years. My opinion support 3 key observations.
    There is no such a thing as protection for intellectual property in most countries around the world especially in Asia.
    When the company decide to outsource their manufacturing it means change in profile and usually leads to elimination of manufacturing branch which leads to total loss of control of that phase of business.
    Innovation which comes from manufacturing phase is 100% missing since all improvements are basically left to manufacturing contractor and people like me, outsiders who work on contracts and in really no body cares about our comments and suggestions.
    Most important, the company basically becomes the law firm with bunch of accountants, competing with another bunch of similar brokers.
    I am not intending to insult anyone especially my clients.
    Another key observation is that most , and I would say 99% of outsourcing is nothing more than cannibalization of own business. Most of the companies I worked for do know that copies are being made at same time when the originals are being made. Copies hit the market 6 months ahead of the originals and basically. serve as free advertising of upcoming new trend.
    This might be interesting strategy same time Andrew Carnegie, did teach me something totally different.
    Last comment.
    Outsourcing is a blessing for developing countries, and does bring huge benefits to all involved.
    I truly believe 80% of the benefit goes to those who do manufacturing and only 20% stays with mother company. In long term outsourcing kills the mother company.

  • Michael Galef January 22, 2015 at 4:59 pm


    Great article and there are truly inflection points for each company depending on their competition, segment and risk tolerance.

    Having grown many small brands from almost inception to launch to PE sale, I can say having your own manufacturing provides a certain culture of ownership if the corporate headquarters is located at the plant. The more distance the more separation between, ops, sales and marketing. Which then leads one back to why own.

    Further, it also depends on how internal growth is a achieved and if the process is truly ownable. In most cases, if you have a strong ops business unit, if the product is not proprietary, again, outsourcing seems to be the logical point.

    But as you say there are many levers a Board and the executive suite can play and each situation is dynamic.

    Thanks for the thoughtful article. If I come across anyone who is in this consideration mindset, I’ll be sure to have them reach out to you.

    Michael Galef

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