Suppliers turn to matchmaking events

Suppliers get face time with tier-one buyers

A buyer listens to a sales pitch at a matchmaker event in Nashville.

NASHVILLE — Auto parts suppliers in Tennessee mingled and table hopped from customer to customer here last week in a bid to "speed date" their way to new business contracts.

It was the latest occurrence of a business development tool referred to as matchmaking, now gaining popularity across the Southern automotive supply base.

The all-day "Meet Your Match Tennessee" was intended to put second- and third-tier parts and material companies face to face with prospective buyers from tier-one suppliers, as well as from the purchasing departments of Nissan North America in Nashville and Volkswagen Group of America in Chattanooga.

"We don't expect to see contracts signed on the spot, of course, but the event is an introduction," said Ashley Frye, executive director of the Tennessee Automotive Manufacturers Association, which represents 930 suppliers. "These initial conversations allow you to tell a potential customer what products you sell and what your capacity capabilities are. For specific business, that would be further evaluated on the second meeting."

Frye, who previously was vice president of production at Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama in Montgomery, Ala., said the events are a business version of speed dating — a way to bring interested and motivated automotive companies together to identify opportunities.

Each meeting lasts 15 to 20 minutes.

Chuck Wittum, head of purchasing for Magneti Marelli Automotive Lighting in Pulaski, Tenn., meets with Allison Spader from Graphic Label Solutions ?of Columbia, Tenn., last week. Each meeting lasts 15 to 20 minutes.

The practice began at the Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association and has since been hosted in South Carolina and is scheduled in Kentucky in August.

"Matchmaking events hosted by Southern automotive associations have proven to be very successful in connecting businesses to potential customers," says Ron Davis, president of the Alabama industry association. "There are several cases where business agreements have been made during these conferences.

"Suppliers often struggle getting meetings with purchasing," Davis said. "These events bring multiple purchasing reps together at one time. They get them all in one room on one day to make connections.

"This is a big time savings and travel savings."

Last week's event in Nashville was co-hosted by the University of Tennessee's Center for Industrial Services and the state's department of economic and community development.

Bob Rolfe, the state's economic development commissioner, said the government helped put on the industry event because "Our job is to create new high-quality jobs for Tennessee.

"We are there to serve as a resource," Rolfe told Automotive News, "to do whatever we can to stimulate the auto industry in Tennessee." ​

You can reach Lindsay Chappell at lchappell@crain.com

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