Here comes a time during every innovator’s process when they wonder how to find a manufacturer to make their product. Product innovation, design, and research are only the beginning of product development. Even the best product ideas and designs are meaningless if you can’t source a trustworthy manufacturer to produce the product your team designed at scale and at a cost that keeps your price competitive.
Just like everything else involved in getting a new product on the market, manufacturing is a process. Finding a manufacturing partner with the right people and the proper processes is key for both startups and established companies. But don’t worry, every physical product on the market goes through the same thing. What follows are some key pointers on identifying the right manufacturing company to get your new product made on time and on cost, with the quality your customers expect.
Preparing for Manufacturing
Before starting the manufacturing process, here’s what all you need to do initially:
- Market Research: Understand your potential customers and the competitive landscape. Make sure your product provides additional value compared to your competitors’ offerings and also address the needs of your potential customers.
- Licensing: Decide whether you want to produce and sell the product yourself or license the idea to a company which has the means and experience to handle the product you want.
- Prototyping: Create a sample or prototype of your product to ensure it can be made to your exact specifications in a factory.
- Protect Intellectual Property: Register for a patent, copyright your work, or buy a trademark to protect your intellectual property and avoid any misuse.
Manufacturers Do a Lot More Than Make Stuff
A manufacturer does more than simply put your product together. They are responsible for transforming your design into a finished product. The manufacturer sources all of the product components, forming a supply chain for all the raw materials, off-the-shelf components, and hardware required to produce your product. They must create a manufacturing process with the proper tooling and testing equipment, establish testing and quality procedures, and hire people with the needed skill sets, just to name a few tasks. It’s a big job and precisely why selecting the right manufacturer is so important.
While referrals from peers are valuable, finding a good manufacturing partner should not be based solely on recommendations from other people. Referrals may serve as a starting point, but every manufacturer has its specialities and proven practices around them. And don’t base your decision only on conversations with their sales representatives. As nice and knowledgeable as they seem, they won’t be the ones running the production line.
Risks to Consider When Finding a Manufacturer
When selecting a manufacturing partner, consider the following potential risks:
- Poor Labor Practices: Ensure your manufacturing partner follows good labor practices. For instance, there can be issues related to poor working conditions, forced labor, or child labor.
- Fraud Protection: Conduct thorough research to protect against fraud, especially when dealing with foreign manufacturers. Make sure there is due diligence and background checks to verify the reputation and integrity of the manufacturer. This can help avoid issues related to product counterfeiting or replacement.
- IP Theft: Protect your intellectual property (IP) by using multiple suppliers, trusting only companies you have a strong relationship with, and ensuring your legal protections in place are solid.
Finding the Right Manufacturer
Use online resources like Maker’s Row, Global Sourcing Specialists (GSS), Alibaba, MFG.com, ThomasNet, and IndustryNet to find a manufacturer. Also, consider getting referrals from fellow business owners and visiting trade shows related to your product’s industry.
Questions to Ask a Potential Manufacturing Partner
Ask potential manufacturing partners about their experience, current clients, turnaround time, minimum order requirements, payment options, and whether they subcontract work to other factories.
- Experience and Expertise: Inquire about their years in the industry, areas of specialization, and any certifications or awards they’ve received. This will give you an insight into their credibility and reliability.
- Client Portfolio: Asking about their current and past clients can provide a perspective on the scale and type of projects they handle. Positive references from known brands or companies can be a good indicator of their reputation.
- Turnaround Time: Understanding their production timelines, including any peak periods or potential delays, will help you plan your inventory and meet market demands timely.
- Minimum Order Requirements: Some manufacturers set minimum order quantities (MOQ). Knowing this upfront can help you assess if they align with your production needs, especially if you’re a smaller business or testing a new product.
- Payment Terms and Options: Discuss their preferred payment methods, any upfront costs, and terms of credit. This will ensure there are no financial misunderstandings later on.
- Subcontracting Practices: It’s crucial to know if they subcontract any part of the production process to other factories. This can impact quality, timelines, and even ethical considerations, especially if those subcontracted factories don’t adhere to the same standards.
When looking for someone who can do your product manufacturing, here are 10 questions you should ask potential manufacturers:
- What does your quality assurance process look like?
- What certifications does the company and its key employees have?
- Have you made any products in our industry?
- How much of the production will you do in-house, and how much will you need to outsource?
- What happens if production costs exceed what you’ve quoted?
- If hard tooling is made, like injection molds, who owns those tools?
- What is your minimum order quantity (MOQ)?
- Will there be a specific production manager assigned to my product, and will I be able to talk to them directly?
- Can you provide three references, preferably in my industry or something close?
- What happens if the final product does not meet our design specifications and who pays for any rework or fixes to the manufacturing process?
A Few More Practical Tips
The more specific you can get with potential manufacturers, the greater confidence you will have in the final product’s quality. The manufacturer’s experience and their ability to communicate openly and promptly will directly impact the speed at which they can deliver quality products.
Something else to be aware of is how to make many modern products’ specific components. Advanced skill sets and sophisticated technology are often required. Harvard Business Review says this modern paradigm means manufacturers must rely on specialists and subcontractors who focus on just one area. No matter which manufacturer you choose, they will most likely have many suppliers worldwide who contribute components to your product. Understanding their network of suppliers is critical to your success.
And speaking of the worldwide supply chain, where to make your product may be the most important decision you need to make when deciding how to manufacture your product.
Domestic vs. Overseas Manufacturing
Consider the pros and cons of manufacturing your products domestically or overseas. Factors to consider include control over the production process, cost, quality control, and consumer perception.
Domestic manufacturing offers greater control over the production process, ensures stringent quality checks, and can lead to faster market delivery. It often resonates positively with consumers who prefer locally-made products. However, it might come with higher costs and limited scalability.
On the other hand, overseas manufacturing is typically more cost-effective and scalable, with access to specialized skills and new markets. Yet, it can pose challenges in quality consistency, longer lead times, and potential intellectual property risks. The choice between the two depends on product nature, target market, costs, and long-term company strategy.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Overseas Sourcing
The cost of labor is the primary reason why so many U.S. companies manufacture their products overseas. The quantity and variety of overseas manufacturers can also be an advantage, but having so many choices makes finding a manufacturer to make your product challenging. However, there’s a reason why so many products are manufactured in China and other offshore locations.
Online overseas directories like Alibaba can help, but there is no guarantee you land on a specialized manufacturer with whom you can build a trusting, long-term relationship. And many resources will only point you to Chinese manufacturing options when there are many other countries in Asia with strong manufacturing, and you can also consider near-shoring in Mexico or other countries in the Americas.
Unless you work with someone experienced to help you find reputable overseas factories, there are always risks with quality control, poor labor standards, intellectual property theft, payment recourse, and longer shipping times. You will also have to manage importing, customs, and compliance processes, each of which comes with multiple steps, middlemen, and other stakeholders.
Continually traveling overseas is expensive, and without a local presence to oversee and manage the manufacturer, you have fewer opportunities to identify issues before making payments. Managing manufacturers remotely is difficult, especially with the time zone difference and language barriers. Even if you can conduct regular on-site visits personally, there is typically a cultural barrier that complicates matters.
Finding a Manufacturer to Make Your Product: Choosing the Best
A big mistake that many small businesses make is rushing their choice of a manufacturing partner. After completing the design, they want to get it made and on shelves or on an e-commerce site. But rushing the decision can only lead to longer delays if not failure. Take your time, ask questions, and talk to references. Visit their facility and ask them to explain their production process. Also, let their manufacturing engineers question you about your product design. If they come back and say there are no problems and everything will be easy, beware. Making stuff is hard, and unless your manufacturing company was part of your product design process, they should have many questions.
With factory sourcing being so critical in the product development process, you likely need to partner with someone with extensive knowledge about the ins and outs of manufacturing. They need to know what to look for and how to ensure you work with the best possible factory for your specific product. You can hire a sourcing agent, but If you use a sourcing agent to help you find a manufacturer, be sure you have a way to verify they work completely independently and receive no kickbacks or compensation for their recommendations.
Trading companies are another option. They are a middleman that fills your order. They handle everything and then charge you for the final product. Working with this type of sourcing company gives you little control and has higher long-term costs. But it’s fast and easy.
What to Look for in a Factory
When choosing a factory, look for:
- Experience and Knowledge: The factory should have experience in your industry and be able to guide you through the manufacturing process for your product.
- Technical Capabilities: The factory should be producing goods similar to yours to ensure they understand your market. This can help establish their technical expertise and capabilities in meet your needs.
- Reputation: Check the factory’s reputation, including its work for major brands or retailers, regulatory fines or infractions, and labor policies.
The Best Way to Learn How to Manufacture a Product is to Partner With an Expert
You can do all of this yourself, or you can work with a company like Gembah. We are based in the U.S., and we help entrepreneurs and companies with the entire product development process, including research, design, sourcing, and manufacturing.
You can leverage our network of resources, including designers, engineers, and manufacturers around the world. And once manufacturing starts, our local representatives can conduct regular on-site visits to ensure the manufacturer is delivering on their commitments. We then provide you with reports and photos to keep you updated throughout production. The representative speaks the language and understands the culture, helping you establish a trusting relationship with the manufacturer.
Having this knowledge base and network of vetted resources is a huge advantage that will save you significant time and hassles, as well as costly mistakes. While there is a risk with sourcing overseas, there are plenty of reputable manufacturers that can be trusted to produce your product with the utmost quality and prioritize your best interest.
This guest blog post was provided by Gembah, a product manufacturer agency that helps entrepreneurs, companies, and e-commerce brands take products from concept to market efficiently and effectively. Interested in a trusted partner like Gembah to help you manufacture a product and guide you through the process? Get more information by filling out their contact us form.