How to find the right manufacturer for your products

By Chris Unwin, CEO of conveyor and automation system manufacturer L.A.C. Conveyors
Published: 25 June 2018

We all know there’s a lot that goes into setting up a business, so it’s great to start seeing the fruits of our labour when sales (and profits) go up. But once momentum gets going, a new fear sets in – you ask yourself how you’re ever going to ramp up production to cope with increased demand. You could always hire more staff, of course, but if you’re looking to increase production on mass then it’s probably worthwhile seeking a manufacturer for your products. This task is no easy feat, there’s a lot that needs to go into finding the right manufacturer for you, and you have to have a ‘good feeling’ about them; afterall, building a good two-way relationship will be the key to success. Here are some some top tips to get you started:

Domestic vs offshore
With so many companies to choose from, it’s a good idea to start by narrowing down your search to domestic or offshore manufacturers – or indeed a specific country if you can. Both options have distinct pros and cons. With domestic manufacturing you’re more likely to have a better time with communication as you’ll be working with people who speak your native language, in the same time zone. The close proximity also enables you to vet the company in person, and have face to face meetings as and when required. Some other advantages include higher labour standards and faster shipping time – but the costs could be greater and there are less companies to choose from.

Cost effectiveness is one of the the main reasons why entrepreneurs choose overseas production. Higher volumes and the ability to scale manufacturing capacity quickly, in order to respond to customer demand, are also more likely. However, while cheaper, there are freight costs to consider – you’ll probably want to get shipping insurance to cover the cost of lost, stolen or damaged cargo. You also won’t be able to use the ‘Made in Britain’ stamp, which a lot of customers desire. One recent study found that 93% of consumers would be willing to pay more for British made goods since the vote on Brexit!

Narrowing the search pool
Once you’ve decided on domestic vs offshore manufacturing, you’ll want to start your search by compiling a list of potentials. It’s always worth seeking word-of-mouth recommendations, but if you don’t know any other manufacturers then you’ll want to look for online reviews, ratings and testimonials. Directories are also a good place to look, as is Alibaba, the world’s largest online marketplace of vendors and manufacturers. Sourcify is another go-to, connecting entrepreneurs to pre-vetted overseas factories.

The vetting process
Before you start hammering away with emails and phone calls, it’s a good idea to make a checklist of questions to ask. If you’re looking to make a product that’s safe for those with nut allergies, for example, then it’s vital to ask whether the factory handles nuts for any of their other clients! You should also seek a quote and information on samples/prototypes, volume, turnaround time and payment terms. If it helps, create a document or spreadsheet so that you can compare one company to another.

If you’ve decided on domestic manufacturing, you may want to ask for a few site tours. While technology has made us more efficient, it’s always good to sit down and talk to someone face to face and get to grips with how their business operates.

Maintaining a two-way relationship
Now you’ve find the right manufacturing partner for your products, it’s time to maintain your relationship with them. Arrange to speak to them on a regular basis and be sure to pay them promptly; if you can’t, let them know that you foresee a delay in payment and work together to come up with a solution. Don’t forget to keep them updated too, by letting them know if you’re going on holiday, or if their point of contact changes, for example. You may also wish to invite them to your headquarters, so that they can see how you operate on a day-to-day basis, and what your plans are for the future; this will help them to feel more engaged and included.

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