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How to find a manufacturer for your product, locally or overseas

Duncan Geddes

by Duncan Geddes

This article explains the best way of finding an appropriate manufacturer for individuals and businesses. It describes the pitfalls and how to avoid them and how to set yourself up for manufacturing success. The article will tell you how to find manufacturers that suit your unique product and situation, addressing everything from places to search and what to ask, to budgets.

Navigating the manufacturing industry

Working alone as part of a small team is a great incubator for creating and honing ideas as well as building persuasive prototypes. It can also be the home of viable business models, ambitious plans and marketing campaigns, but entrepreneurs and ambitious businesses often find themselves hitting insurmountable obstacles when it comes to sourcing products.

Whether you’re manufacturing your own product or seeking out suppliers to purchase wholesale from, they’re often hard to find. The challenge is often not scarcity, but choosing the right partner:

  • Are the product manufacturers experts in relevant practices? For example:
    – Do they have CAD and CAM capabilities?
    – Do they have a track record of creating great products in relevant materials?
  • Precisely what do you get for your money?
  • What supporting services do they offer? For example, dropshipping, so you don’t have to worry about stocking or shipping products
  • Do they have valuable relationships that you might need or can leverage, for example with wholesalers and suppliers?
  • Where are they based and how does that impact costs, timing, rick and logistics? Does location affect tax or any national laws?

What to look for in a manufacturer

There are a number of key areas to address when choosing a manufacturer. While there is best practice, what you need to look for will depend on a wide range of factors – including whether or not you need a manufacturer to help you with product design and development. Read our article: The new product development process: a step-by-step guide. The following sections detail how to get a product made and how to manufacture a product.

Some key things to consider when choosing a manufacturer:

  • Is it ISO-certified? (does it meet quality standards?)
  • Does it have drop-ship capabilities? (Can it deliver direct to customers?)
  • Is it able to be flexible and absorb market fluctuations?
  • Can it keep up with the demand for your product?
  • Is it financially sound?
  • Does it solve your specific production challenge(s)?

Technical capabilities

Anyone can say they have certain capabilities. They may even have the right equipment, but what do their products say about their capabilities? It’s important to check thoroughly. Have they produced products like yours to a high level? What has the response to that product been? You might check Amazon, Google or other relevant reviews to see how consumers felt about the quality of the product. Did it successfully meet the promise the product made? Did it last?

Also see what else they manufacture. Do they create more technical, complex or intricate products. What does that and the response to these items say about their capabilities? Would your product push their capabilities or fit easily within their skillset?

The key is to see if their promises, claims and guarantees are backed up. Have they demonstrated what they say that can do?

Knowledge and experience

Choose a company that has a track record that demonstrates its knowledge and experience of the market as well as technical skills needed. This shows that they understand what it takes for your product to succeed in your market.

Are you able to see examples of how the manufacturer solved existing problems relevant to your business? Do they have case studies on their website that detail how they’ve approached and solved specific problems? For example, we outline our approach on our Product Design page, and include testimonials and links to case studies to show potential customers our proven approach.

Again, the key is to find evidence of their approach in action, not just the words of their website. Are their real-world examples?

Values and ethics

Values and ethics are important. Yes, you’re a business not a charity, and while you may not run your business because of an ideology or moral crusade in the pursuit of social justice, you will want to work with partners that reflect your own values.

It’s not always easy to know what to ask or check, so consider the following:

  • How do they treat their staff? If the manufacturer is based overseas, what are its labour policies and how high is the turnover rate? You might be able to check on company review site, Glassdoor to see what employees say about the company.
  • Do they work with other individuals or organisations that you would not wanted to be aligned with? For example, do they manufacture weapons or work with rogue states?
  • Have they been involved in any or many lawsuits recently? What did they involve and what were the rulings? Do they have any sort of regulatory fines or infractions?
  • What are their environmental policies and credentials. For example, do they have any qualifications, accreditations or awards for environmental initiatives or processes?
  • Have they won any awards for anything else? What does this say about what they value?
  • What is their equal rights and/or diversity policy? How have they demonstrated their commitment to these and other policies?
  • Are they a member of any organisations that show their values? For example, environmental or humane bodies?
  • Who are their senior people? Can you find any interviews with them on relevant websites or even YouTube? How do they talk about the company, industry, environment and people?

Based on what you find, are there any red flags, or would you happily work with this company? If you are concerned you might raise any issues directly with the company as the story may be more complex than what you find online.

Related to this is how they value their customers. Do they invest in partners? Do they develop relationships over the long term?

What qualities do you value in a business partner?

  • Transparency?
  • Honesty?
  • Loyalty?
  • Value?
  • Ruthlessness?
  • Proactivity?
  • Great customer service?
  • Going the extra mile?
  • Manners and respect?
  • Commitment to quality?

Can you find evidence of these? You might also be able to ask these questions directly in conversations with the company. They are valid and important questions to answer when embarking on any relationship.

Industry reputation

Reputation is a very telling metric because it’s earned over time externally and not simply created.

While you may not know anyone personally who has worked with a given manufacturer, you may be able to find out if they work with any major brands or retailers.

Read any case studies they have on their website.

How are the company talked about on industry media websites and even social media (especially LinkedIn).

Domestic vs. overseas manufacturing

Where to find manufacturers is a common question in the process. When looking for a manufacturer you may have the option of choosing between domestic and overseas companies. While ‘overseas’ literally means anywhere abroad, for the purposes of this article we are referring specifically to countries such as China, India, Taiwan, Vietnam and Bangladesh. While these countries often offer a cheap unit price it’s important to not the other factors in a good choice as both domestic and overseas sourcing have their advantages and disadvantages:

  Advantages Disadvantages
Domestic sourcing

 

  • (Usually) high manufacturing quality
  • Marketing value of high quality
  • Higher labour standards
  • No language barrier
  • Easier to verify reputable manufacturers
  • Greater payment security and recourse
  • Good protection of intellectual property rights
  • Faster shipping time.
  • Higher manufacturing costs
  • More limited choice of products and materials, as some countries just don’t produce certain items or use certain materials
Overseas sourcing

 

  • Low manufacturing costs
  • Large choice of manufacturers
  • Marketing value of low-cost products.
  • (Usually) lower manufacturing standards
  • (Potentially) lower labour standards
  • Perception of low quality from customers
  • Communication issues due to language
  • Time zone issues
  • Distance makes it difficult/costly to verify manufacturer in-person/have meetings
  • Longer shipping time
  • Customs and tax implications on costs
  • Less payment security and recourse in case of legal proceedings
  • Cultural differences in business practices
  • Potential issues with intellectual property protection

 

How to find a local manufacturer

You could just Google, ‘manufacturing near me’, but this isn’t enough to ensure you find the best manufacturing partner. There’s a lot to be said for finding local business partners, but it’s still important to run due diligence.

No matter where a manufacturer is, it’s important to run the checks and do your research as listed above.

As Technical Foam Services MD Duncan Geddes explained in his LinkedIn article: “Working with a local business can help in the following ways:

  • Face-to-face communication helps build relationships and trust
  • Local means you can visit, discuss, see your product being manufactured and make changes if you need
  • Local businesses may also be more inclined to make the project work as local reputation can count for a lot in product manufacturing.”

As well as Google, which will prioritise local manufacturers (especially if you specify ‘near me’) there are other ways to find a local manufacturer, for example online directories:

Consider asking your own professional network. Social media is a great way to do this as is joining various online forums.

Visit trade shows, especially those near you. By talking to the people from the company you will be able to address lots of the important checks detailed in this article from case studies and capabilities to values. Trade shows are also a great place to ask others about their experiences or knowledge of a given manufacturer.

How to find an international manufacturer

 Many of the important steps in finding a manufacturer are the same whether you’re looking locally or globally. However, there are certain differences to be aware of.

A good place to start is an international manufacturer directory, for example:

Whether you’re based in the US, the UK or elsewhere you may have access to public organizations that can provide assistance. For example, in the US there is the U.S. Small Business Administration who can support businesses seeking manufacturers overseas.

Many international manufacturers – including those in China – have local agents that can answer your questions and provide easy communication. These agents will be able to give you details of the company’s tooling and engineering capabilities, capacity to specialize in materials and their willingness to work with your business.

Again, trade shows have a role to play in finding an international partner. While you may have to travel to a large trade show in China, it is a great opportunity to meet with many manufacturers face-to-face in a short period of time – saving flight costs to visit multiple companies individually.

Overseas production can often reduce unit price, but make sure you factor in all of the surrounding costs, as it may yet prove less cost-effective than local production – especially for small runs.

Key questions to ask a prospective manufacturing partner

Here are some questions to help find a potential manufacturer:

  • What is your minimum order quantity?
  • What is your sample pricing?
  • What is your production pricing?
  • What is your turnaround time?
  • What are your payment terms?
  • Do you have minimum and/or maximum order quantities? And what are they?
  • Can you tell about some of your existing clients – especially any that produce what we do?
  • Can you tell me a bit about how you choose and source materials, and where they come from?

You may enjoy our article: The new product development process – a step-by-step guide.

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