Sourcing. How to find a manufacturer.
How do you source a product?
Our products are made in the USA. We were not jingoistic in our strategy, but we knew that it would be easier to manage cash flow if we could place smaller orders closer to when we needed products. There are a lot of advantages to manufacturing abroad, the most obvious of which is the pricing; but when we first launched we were less concerned about our margins and more concerned with delivering a top quality product while maintaining healthy cash balances. I can’t even say “cash flow” because in the beginning, cash only moves in one direction; out.
A friend of mine was an industrials banker and provided me with the top 100 injection molders in North America. We knew at that point, we would be needing injection molding to make our product. At least, we strongly thought as much.
Without a patent, a clear design, or anything other than some savings, we began cold calling the top 100 injection molders and explained to them what we were seeking to do. Needless to say, most of them were not interested. But just around number 92 and 93, we began to find interested or at least curious people who referred us to colleagues and friends.
Our mechanical engineer also had resources on the prototyping end; and his prototyping contacts had their own set of contacts in injection molding as well.
My point is that the average person would not have a rolodex that included injection molders, but one has to have the ability to find people who do. In other words, you are not expected to know how to do every aspect of your business, but you are expected to know, rather it is paramount to be able to find people who can.
Once we had a short list of injection molders, we flew around the country to visit them. In the days of ZOOM, this may not have been necessary, but it is hard to replace the face to face meeting and the learnings one can attain when seeing the physical facility where their products might be manufactured.
Prior to our trip, we had an idea as to whom we thought we would end up working; but findings of the trip changed our mind drastically. The superior technology, human connections and the genuine interest that we found in one team made the decision easy to make.
As the company grew and demand for our heel protector increased, we considered moving manufacturing abroad, specifically to China. We found great options and compelling pricing, but we have stayed with our original manufacturer because after all these years, the product has remained consistent and of the highest quality and the relationship itself provides value to us.
The decision of who will make your product is one of the biggest and most important ones you will make. Quality, reliability, and preparation for the unforeseen; these are among the things you should be looking for.
You need a partner who will have a vested interest in your success and not someone who makes you feel like just another order to be filled.
- Know the kind of manufacturing type you need. Injection Molding, Textile, Sewing, High Tech, High touch, etc.
- In the USA, most manufacturers are just that - they make, they do not package. In other developing countries, you might find the manufacturing the packaging are done together. There are obvious advantages to this (and challenges)
- Global sourcing companies exist just to connect makers to manufacturers. When you first start out, this might not be a fit for you.
- Get to know your manufacturer. Do not depend on an online review (they can be faked). Do not trust someone you know over a 3rd party site or only online.
- If you use a global sourcing company, get to know them on a personal level in order to establish a trusting and trusted relationship.
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