If you’re wondering about manufacturing products overseas, my first product run is a cautionary tale in how badly things can go wrong. I had been sampling my inaugural product – a diaper bag – for 1.5 years with 6 different factories. By the 3rd round with my chosen manufacturer, I finally got a great sample and gave the go ahead on a PO – burning with anticipation for when I would receive the bags and finally be in business.
But, 4 months later, when I tore the tape off the first box and took out the diaper bags, I almost cried. The entire shipment consisted of downgraded bags based on the wrong sample that had their closures sewn in backwards. This was the moment I realized the extreme risks of what I was getting into.
While, I knew nothing when I got into it, I’ve learned a lot through through trial and further error over the past 9 years. Here are my 7 biggest pieces of advice on manufacturing products overseas.
1) Rely on references
Use your personal contacts to find someone who is manufacturing products overseas. Ask if they can connect you with the person they know for general feedback on their experience with the factory including quality, timing and pricing integrity. While some people are very protective of their manufacturing contacts other are very willing to help out with information about manufacturing products overseas.
2) Explore sourcing agents
Sourcing agents can be a good avenue, especially for young companies with little manufacturing experience. While you will pay higher costs, they will save you the effort of vetting factories, help you handle language barriers and, in many cases, be willing to offer quality guarantees. See if you can find someone who will take a fee upfront and pass the factory onto you after the initial run. This can save you a whole lot of time and money in ongoing pricing negotiations with your manufacturer.
3) Gauge quality through initial interactions
The timeliness and thoroughness of initial responses from factories is a good first gauge of the quality of a factory. If timelines are constantly being missed for the sampling phase, there is a good chance that the production will go the same way. It is poor communication that causes the most issues over the long term, so this should be one of the most important factors in choosing a manufacturing relationship
4) Visit the factory
Whether you work with a sourcing agent or not, it is a good idea to visit the factory in person, ideally during the manufacturing process so that you can inspect the products yourself and address any issues in real time. Meeting face to face will also establish goodwill and indicate that you take your business and relationships seriously.
5) Mark your samples
Ensure that once a sample is approved, it is clearly marked as an approved sample permanently so there is no mix up. Ensure that your external QA team also has a marked approved sample to check production against.
6) Use an external QA team
You should always have an on the ground external QA team who will be there to inspect your products during the process, whether via your sourcing agent or on your own initiative. You will need to prepare a thorough list, determine the level of quality check they will do, and what constitutes a fail. Ensure the QA team sends photos of their findings while still at the factory so that you can make final call.
7) Develop strict quality standards
Even if you have one good production run, this is no guarantee that the next one will be just as good. Ensure you have strict processes in place for quality standards check for each and every run.
As I’m reviewing these suggestions, I’m thinking of times when I didn’t take my own advice on manufacturing products overseas. In the rush to get your products to market it’s always tempting to want to cut corners and get the lowest price possible. It takes a lot of work, diligence and time to do things right – but it’s essential. Getting it wrong can cost you your business.