Apple is moving in one direction. What is better for your company?

The debate between vertical or horizontal integration appears to be reinvigorated.

Vertical or horizontal integration is at the heart of a company’s operations strategy. We’ll talk more about why there is new momentum around vertical integration, but first we ask which model provides the greatest operating leverage and opportunity for success?

This decision is a fundamental business strategy decision and the answer depends on your company, your unique value proposition and your capabilities/resources to deliver small portions or the majority of that value proposition.

In this guide, we will explore vertical vs horizontal integration and their key advantages.

Let’s dive right in!

Key Takeaways

  1. Horizontal Integration is strategy where a company acquires or merges with competitors in the same industry to increase market share and reduce competition.
  2. Vertical Integration involves acquiring businesses along the supply chain, such as suppliers or distributors, to gain more control over production and distribution.
  3. Benefits and Challenges: Horizontal integration expands market presence but can face regulatory challenges. Vertical integration enhances supply chain control but may increase operational complexity.
  4. Strategic Decision Making: Choice between horizontal and vertical integration depends on the company’s goals, industry context, and resource availability.

What is Horizontal Integration?

Horizontal integration is a strategy used by businesses to expand their market presence and enhance competitiveness.

This approach involves a company acquiring or merging with other companies that operate in the same industry. Essentially, horizontal integration is about a firm extending its reach within its current line of business.

The core idea behind horizontal integration is to increase market share and strengthen the company’s position in the industry.

By merging with or acquiring similar companies, a business can access a wider customer base and boost its sales. This leads to increased revenue and a more robust presence in the market.

Advantages of Horizontal Integration

One of the key advantages of horizontal integration is achieving economies of scale.

As a company grows larger through acquisitions, it can benefit from cost efficiencies in production, distribution, and marketing. This not only helps in reducing expenses but also in enhancing the firm’s overall profitability.

Cons of Horizontal Integration

However, horizontal integration is not without its challenges.

Merging different business cultures can lead to integration difficulties, impacting employee morale and operational efficiency.

Also, this growth strategy might attract regulatory scrutiny, especially if it significantly reduces competition in the market, leading to a potential monopoly.

In summary, horizontal integration is a growth strategy where a company acquires or merges with other firms in the same industry to increase its market share, reduce competition, and achieve cost efficiencies.

What is Horizontal Integration?

Vertical integration is a business expansion strategy where a company extends its operations into different stages of production or distribution within its industry.

This approach involves acquiring or merging with companies that are part of the supply chain, either as suppliers or distributors.

The main objective of vertical integration is to gain greater control over the production process, from sourcing materials to delivering the final product to consumers.

By doing so, a company can enhance efficiency, reduce costs, and ensure a more consistent quality of its products or services. This strategy allows a business to be more self-reliant and less dependent on external suppliers or distributors.

For example: a clothing manufacturer might engage in vertical integration by acquiring a fabric supplier (backward integration) or a retail chain (forward integration). This allows the manufacturer to secure a steady supply of materials and control how its products are marketed and sold.

Pros and Cons of Vertical Integration

Vertical integration can lead to improved profit margins and a stronger position in the market.

However, it also brings challenges, such as the need to manage more complex operations and potential issues with integrating different company cultures.

Despite these challenges, vertical integration can be a powerful tool for companies looking to strengthen their supply chain and enhance their market presence.

The 5 Key Differences Between Vertical vs. Horizontal Integration

The key differences between vertical and horizontal integration are as follows:

1. Direction of Expansion

  • Vertical Integration: Involves expanding into different stages of the supply chain within the same industry, either upstream (acquiring suppliers) or downstream (acquiring distributors).
  • Horizontal Integration: Focuses on expanding within the same level of the supply chain by acquiring or merging with competitors or businesses that operate in the same industry segment.

2. Objective

  • Vertical Integration: Aims to gain greater control over the supply chain, enhance efficiency, and reduce dependency on suppliers or distributors.
  • Horizontal Integration: Seeks to increase market share, reduce competition, and achieve economies of scale.

3. Impact on Competition

  • Vertical Integration: Less about affecting market competition and more about gaining control over production processes and distribution channels.
  • Horizontal Integration: Directly impacts competition by absorbing competitors, potentially leading to a more dominant market position.

4. Cost and Efficiency

  • Vertical Integration: Can lead to cost savings through improved supply chain management and reduced overhead from intermediaries.
  • Horizontal Integration: Offers cost benefits primarily through economies of scale and shared resources.

5. Risk and Complexity

  • Vertical Integration: Increases operational complexity and can be riskier if the integrated stages of production or distribution are not well managed.
  • Horizontal Integration: Carries the risk of cultural clashes and regulatory scrutiny, particularly concerning anti-competitive practices.

Understanding these differences is crucial for businesses when deciding which integration strategy aligns best with their growth objectives and operational capabilities.

Why Are Horizontal and Vertical Integration Important?

Horizontal and vertical integration are important for several reasons, as they offer distinct advantages for businesses looking to grow and strengthen their market position:

  1. Market Control and Competitive Edge:
    • Horizontal Integration enables companies to expand their market share and reduce competition, thereby gaining a stronger foothold in their industry. This increased market presence can offer a significant competitive advantage.
    • Vertical Integration allows businesses to exert more control over their supply chain, from production to distribution. This control can lead to increased efficiency, better quality management, and a reduction in reliance on external suppliers, enhancing competitive advantage.
  2. Efficiency and Cost Reduction:
    • Businesses engaging in vertical integration can streamline their operations and reduce costs by eliminating intermediary expenses and achieving more efficient production processes.
    • Horizontal integration can achieve economies of scale, spreading costs over a larger output and thus reducing the per-unit cost of production or operation.
  3. Improved Access to Resources and Markets:
    • Through horizontal integration, companies can access new markets and customer bases, broadening their reach and increasing revenue opportunities.
    • Vertical integration can secure access to essential resources and technology, ensuring uninterrupted production and potentially leading to innovations in products or services.
  4. Risk Mitigation:
    • Vertical integration can help mitigate risks associated with supply chain disruptions by bringing key elements of the production or distribution process in-house.
    • Horizontal integration can reduce business risks by diversifying product offerings and spreading market risks across a broader platform.
  5. Response to Changing Market Dynamics:
    • Both strategies enable companies to be more agile and responsive to market changes. Vertical integration offers more control over the supply chain, while horizontal integration expands market presence, making it easier to adapt to new trends and customer demands.

In summary, horizontal and vertical integration are important because they provide strategic pathways for businesses to grow, enhance their efficiency, expand their market presence, and gain a competitive edge, all while managing risks and adapting to the evolving market landscape.

Vertically or Horizontally Integrated?

Vertically vs. Horizontally IntegratedStarting with the Model T and coming off the heels of WW I, a centralized, command and control business and operations strategy began to take hold.

Vertically integrated businesses, leveraging mass-production principles of efficiency, dominated the corporate world until the later part of the 20th century.

In the late 1900s, thinking around horizontal integration began to emerge as a popular trend.

Why own “all” the assets of manufacturing and production, why not partner for some of the components and processes needed to create, produce, distribute, sell and support our product

Also, why not take advantage of extremely low costs of manual labor in other parts of the world and just ship our final product to points of demand? This federated (horizontal) approach began to take hold, but with some interesting implications.

Vertical Integration – The model T helped start it; PCs helped end it; and now Samsung and Apple are reintroducing it. What is right for your company?

I started my career just as the PC revolution was just taking hold.

Vertically integrated, mainframe-computer manufacturing gave way to Intel, Microsoft and the client server approach to computing. Intel and Microsoft are excellent examples of companies who introduced disintermediation into the computing paradigm and decided to carve out their niche (very strategically it proved) in the computing value chain.

These companies began to help their value chains compete (and win) against the mainframe and other computing value chains of the day.

Eventually, the client-server model evolved and companies like Apple and Google have adopted a more vertically integrated approach to their strategy (owning both operating systems and platforms).

But from a product development, procurement, manufacturing, supply chain perspective, these companies appear to take a value chain orchestration approach.

Or do they?

Have you seen Apple’s capital investment expenses lately? Not only are they spending their money on data centers (like Google), but also they are spending around $5B a year on manufacturing equipment to produce the proprietary components of their products.

Apple has produced their own chips for many years and some say they will make an acquisition in this area in an effort to extend their design, development and in-house production capabilities.

They certainly have the cash available to buy a legitimate asset (enough cash to buy Intel at the moment).

Processors aside, they are also creating their own manufacturing equipment and producing some of the most sensitive components of their products in their own factories.

So they are starting to own everything in house from design, development, manufacturing (still obviously using Foxconn and others for the bulk build and assembly), marketing, sales (their own retail stores), support and service (Genius) and content (Apps and iTunes).

So, this is what we are seeing as we near the end of 2012.

We see companies embracing both models.

Samsung as a fully, vertically integrated company (yes – they have received plenty of government subsidies over the years); and Intel, very much a horizontally integrated company who leverages OEMs and their distribution channels to take their products to market.

These two opposing models have a completely different mindset from one another and completely different consequences.

The table below outlines some of the operating implications of each model.

vertically integrated, horizontally integrated, Todd Taylor, Operations Strategy

The decision between vertical or horizontal integration will determine your operating strategy.

There is certainly room for debate on this topic and arguments that support both models. It eventually boils down towhat is right for your unique situation and value proposition.

It’s always helpful to think customer-back.

For more information here, see my whitepaper on supply chain segmentation and aligning to your unique customer value proposition. By doing so, you can honestly think about what model yields the best product, experience, availability, price, service and support for your customers.

Proprietary or Open-Standards

I’d bring one other point into the conversation for High Tech industries: Open Standards.

Many times you can equate vertical integration to proprietary standards and horizontal integration to open standards.

When you have to work with many value chain partners, it’s obvious that open standards must be embraced in order for the partners to interoperate and products to come together.

In my experience, open standards always prevail.

Proprietary operating systems, platforms and products many times lead the way into new areas and functionality, but eventually open standards prevail. We see this happening already with Apple and Google.

Android is dominating the sales of mobile devices over Apples IOS. The last report I saw showed Android phones garnering 75% of the market while iPhones accounting for only 15% of the market.

Apple still enjoys superior profitability and they will see a bump when the iPhone 5 numbers are released. But, over-time, open standards usually win.

Other Examples of Vertical and Horizontal Integration

Here are some additional examples of vertical and horizontal integration:

Examples of Vertical Integration

  1. Technology Industry: Apple’s acquisition of Intel’s smartphone modem business in 2019. This move allowed Apple to produce its own modem chips for iPhones, giving it more control over the manufacturing and technology of its products.
  2. Retail and Manufacturing: Ikea’s acquisition of forests in Romania and the Baltics to control part of its wood supply chain. This helps Ikea ensure a sustainable and cost-effective supply of raw materials for its furniture.
  3. Entertainment and Media: Netflix’s transition from being a platform for streaming content produced by others to producing its own original content. This vertical integration allows Netflix to have more control over its content and reduces its reliance on outside production studios.
  4. Automotive Industry: Tesla’s integration of battery production for its electric vehicles. By manufacturing its own batteries, Tesla controls a key component of its supply chain, enhancing efficiency and reducing dependency on external battery suppliers.

Examples of Horizontal Integration

  1. Hospitality Industry: Marriott International’s acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts in 2016, creating the world’s largest hotel company. This expanded Marriott’s global presence and brand portfolio.
  2. Beverage Industry: Anheuser-Busch InBev’s acquisition of SABMiller in 2016. This merger formed one of the world’s largest beer companies, consolidating a massive portion of the global beer market.
  3. Media and Entertainment: The Walt Disney Company’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox in 2019. This deal expanded Disney’s library of movies and TV shows, strengthening its position in the entertainment industry.
  4. Technology Sector: Google’s acquisition of Android in 2005, which allowed Google to significantly expand its presence in the mobile operating system market.

These examples illustrate how vertical and horizontal integration can be effectively used in various industries to increase control over supply chains, expand market share, and enhance competitive positioning.

Closing Thoughts: Are You an Apple or an Intel?

intel vs. apple, todd taylor, operationsEither one isn’t so bad.

ntel is taking a bit of a beating of late along with PCs, but think about what is right for your company. Horizontal integration is the right play for the majority of companies.

Even if you are Google, operations teams must orchestrate a very complex cadre of value chain participants.

This value chain orchestration requires high collaboration, trust, transparency, visibility, very frequent communication and working together to win against other competing value chains.

Let me know what you think of vertical vs horizontal integration, and which model you see as winning or if you see other models emerging.

Download my white paper on segmentation below.

Written by Todd Taylor, a Partner at OPS Rules Management Consultants.

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