Following up on our piece entitled Turning Your Idea Into A Product, we take a look at how to find the right manufacturer for your product. Fortunately, in the online world of today, barriers to entry, including finding a competent and reasonably priced manufacturer, are much lower for many businesses. It’s easier than ever to connect with global manufacturers and online reviews of businesses make it easier to weed out the less capable makers.
Here are a few tips for finding the right manufacturer for your product.
Ask for referrals
Don’t be shy to inquire within your network for the name of a good factory. Ask other small business owners that you collaborate with and even ask those you might not think to ask, like your web developer, your marketer, and your patent lawyer. It’s likely that some of these individuals, if they’ve been working with startups and SMBs for long enough, will know someone who had a very positive experience working with a manufacturer.
A few questions to ask when looking for a referral:
- Which manufacturer do you use?
- How did you find them?
- How long have you been working with this manufacturer for?
- Have you considered changing manufacturers? Why?
- Have you had any issues with them in the past?
- What do you consider their strengths and weaknesses to be?
- What factor was most important to you when you were searching for a manufacturer?
There are a number of reputable sites that focus on bringing together suppliers and manufacturers with businesses from around the world. Alibaba.com, headquartered in China, began as a platform to connect Chinese manufacturers with overseas buyers, but has expanded into online payment services, cloud computing, C2C marketplace, and is on track to becoming the world’s first e-commerce venture to handle US$1 trillion in transactions.
ThomasNet.com is a supplier discovery and product-sourcing portal that includes custom manufacturing categories and smart search tools to help you find the right maker for your product. Originally known as “the big green book” and first published in hard copy format in 1898 as The Thomas Register of American Manufacturers, it is now a leading online database of U.S. manufacturers.
Find an importer
If you choose an overseas manufacturer, you’ll have to navigate the complicated importing process. Find a broker or import/export agent in the U.S. that represents the manufacturer. You can cut out the intermediary by dealing directly with the factory, but this puts you at greater risk of receiving fines or other penalties should you inadvertently violate importing regulations and laws.
“I was fearful of the whole importing process because I had zero experience in manufacturing,” says Ann Merlini, founder of Pac'n Nap, LLC. “After many hours of research and talking to others with importing experience, I decided to work with a U.S. representative of a Chinese factory. I felt having an American contact who could guide me through the importing process was worth the extra money. Because this middleman is knowledgeable, you can avoid potential setbacks, such as steep fines or having your merchandise held in customs for months because of a violation of importing rules.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection – For information on importing goods to the U.S.
Small Business Development Center – For manufacturer referrals
MFG.com – Online space for buyers and suppliers to connect