Catching up With Cabletree’s Thomas Chang

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One area of business I have not spent a lot of time in during my career has been wire harness and cable. But it is a space I have always been interested in exploring, so I jumped at the chance to talk with Thomas Chang, the president and owner of Cabletree.

Dan Beaulieu: Thank you for spending this time with me today, Thomas. I am excited to learn more about your company. First, tell me about Cabletree’s history.

Thomas Chang: It is my pleasure. I started the company in 1983 because I felt there was a need for a cable assembly company at that time. My desire was to make custom cable assemblies and wire harness tailored to customers’ particular requirements, which is a long-life business. I also wanted a company that would last a long time. I saw that there would always be a need for a company that provided cable assemblies.

Beaulieu: Why did you choose the name Cabletree?

Chang: I wanted to create a sustainable business that would be there all the time like an evergreen tree. We are always there for our customers and OEM/ODM electronic manufacturers.

Beaulieu: What products do you provide?

Chang: We offer a variety of cable assemblies, including electronic-mechanical components and subassemblies and assemblies and wire harnesses, all custom-made and tailored to customers’ requirements and designs. We also offer services like just-in-time (JIT), including warehousing in the U.S. for our North American customers. We work side by side with our customers, offering them our expertise from almost 40 years of experience and helping them design the cable assemblies they need. We also work with their R&D people when they are developing new products.

Beaulieu: What specific markets are you best at, and customers do you service?

Chang: We provide a great deal of car diagnostic equipment for companies like SNAP-ON, in addition to access security equipment for companies like Stanley Black & Decker. For them, we work on products like automatic door control harnesses. We also work with fleet management companies like Teletrac Navman in the U.K., as well as with a number of contract manufacturers. Additionally, we work with linear motion companies like SKF Motion Technologies.

Beaulieu: What do you provide EMS companies? Do they do cable assemblies in-house?

Chang: They do some, but not everything we do. This is not their core business, so when they need some support with their customer cable assemblies, they come to us. They also come to us when they are asked to do customer products or expertise for R&D.

Beaulieu: What are your capabilities and specialties?

Chang: We do OEM/ODM service for custom cable assemblies/wire harness (non-commodity). We also source and buy materials, provide assemble/overmold cables and design jigs, and solve technical problems to make the products highly reliable to meet customers’ special requirements. Further, we provide design suggestions to customers and research and development and provide JIT service through our warehouses in the U.S.

Beaulieu: What makes your company outstanding?

Chang: We have an electronic lab, tooling engineers, environmental testing equipment production engineers, and JIT that most Asian cable assembly houses do not have. We have the equipment, facilities, and people that differentiate us from all of the other companies in our market. We have proven track records with well-known customers. For example, our quality level is A+ class. We have almost no returned products from our customers. And we are very good at assembling high-end, complex cables based on customers’ requirements. For example, we could combine the power line/signal line/PCB module on one single cable.

Beaulieu: Once you start working with a company, what do you do?

Chang: We try to learn everything we can about the customer. We like to know who buyers are. Who are engineers that initiate design drawing? What are their goals? What do they need to be successful? Because we are in a customer business, and our job is to deliver what the customer needs to be successful. The only way to do that is to have a complete understanding of what they need in terms of our products. We are not only their cable assembly supplier; we are their engineering consultants as well.

Beaulieu: What are your normal lead times?

Chang: We have our JIT and quick-turn offerings, which are very fast. When you are talking about normal lead times, we can get pre-production samples in a week. Production lead time is based on the customer’s needs.

Beaulieu: Other than effective communications, what other factors contribute to your success?

Chang: There are many factors, but the most important are being understanding, trustworthy, and comfortable supporting our customers. We are willing to go the extra mile to serve them. Our customers know that they can come to us with an idea for a product, and our team can take over from there, including designing and manufacturing the product. They have come to rely on us to do that for them, which can only happen because we have a deep connection to our customers and a proven track record.

Beaulieu: Do you have a particular success story that defines the company?

Chang: One story comes to mind. We were in competition with a company out of Southeast Asia. We had the same customer, but we kept losing the business because their price was always lower than ours. But when they won a large order of over 10,000 cables, they had quality issues. The parts were returned, and the customer demanded that they replaced the defective parts in 30 days or lines would go down. Our competitor could not do it, so the customer placed the order with us. Knowing this was the chance we had been waiting for, we did everything we could to deliver the product on time. By using our complete team, we delivered the 10,000 cables on time and saved the customer’s relationship with their customer. We are very proud of that, and it defined our company.

Beaulieu: How did you do it?

Chang: We used everyone. We had a highly efficient supply chain team, so we could quickly prepare all materials for production. We had a high-performance engineering team, including electrical, mechanical, and industrial engineers. They quickly worked out the kinks in the production process and completed the setup very quickly. Then, our skilled and hard-working employees worked their tails off to get the job done. Finally, our QC team members were precise and effective and supported production engineering to ensure our product quality was 100%. Afterward, we set the customer up with a JIT service so that this would never happen again. We earned the customer’s trust, and since then, we have been getting most of their business.

Beaulieu: Where do you want your company to be in five years?

Chang: We want to become more of an international company, and one of the ways we are doing that is to increase our marketing effort and grow our sales team. We are also planning to upgrade our engineering development and R&D and invest in more engineering and production lines to not only better serve our suppliers but also to grow with them as well. And we want to expand our product offerings. For example, all the electro-mechanical products are related to cable assembly. We want to seek and build a technology supply platform and collaborate with other industries. We plan to get more involved in other markets, such as medical, mining, high-flex CCD camera cables, and analytical instruments.

Beaulieu: What do you consider good service?

Chang: Good service involves reasonable prices and quick quotations, as well as delivering workable samples ASAP, providing fast delivery and JIT, and having a willingness to go the extra mile to serve customers.

Beaulieu: What do you think your customers are seeking?

Chang: They want ease of doing business; worry-free, timely responses; short lead times, and outstanding value. They want vendors who will solve their problems and suppliers they can trust.

Beaulieu: What are your thoughts on our industry today?

Chang: The demand for customized cable assemblies and wire harness will increase, and horizontal integration will still be the trend. We will continue strengthening our core competency (engineering) and develop excellent logistics to provide customers effective and comfortable services. Custom industries and businesses will be a trend, too. Short-distance control applications won’t be replaced by wireless, so we see a big demand for wired cable products. If we optimize our engineering, production, logistics, and marketing, we will be in this business for the next 50 years.

Beaulieu: It has been my pleasure talking to you today. I hope all of your plans come to fruition. Good luck to you and your company in the future.

Chang: Thank you.


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