Working with overseas manufacturers can be a real pain. We’ve heard of many issues from our clients – incorrect orders, orders held up at the port, late samples…. You’re not alone, this happens all the time, especially these days when you have so many ways to access manufacturers abroad. There’s so much information these days, how can you find the right people?
When it comes to finding the right manufacturers, make it a habit of stockpiling contacts. Continue asking new contacts where they manufacture and if they’re happy with their contacts. Most brands are not going to be very forthright about who they’re giving up their information to unless it’s a friend in the industry or a friend of a friend. Make sure you’re bridging and creating networks and relationships with other people who might be willing to share their contacts with you.
Clients of ours who are doing millions of dollars in business still have issues with their manufacturers. Maintain a strong Rolodex, network all the time and take notes of who these people are. If you’re interested in Made in U.S.A and are using a resource like Maker’s Row, you’ll find a whole host of different manufacturers who can produce domestically in the United States. Some online researching is fine, but attending trade shows where you can understand and speak with different sourcing agents and develop relationships is better.
Get Everything in Writing.
Get as much as you can into writing to create a firm timeline. As a small business, chances are your sales are going to take a little bit of a backseat action to whatever else they have going on in production because they’re used to working with bigger accounts. They’re putting all of their larger orders in first, and you’re going to be the person who is kind of waiting for your stuff to get pushed through.
That can certainly be an impediment to getting your orders on time, but have a conversation with your manufacturers and say, “Hey, here’s how many units I’m anticipating to produce. What is the best cutoff date for us in order to make sure that I can produce this on time?” Come up together, collaboratively, with a document that you can then stay on top of. Think of it as project management. This doesn’t necessarily bear any weight on whether or not they’ll follow up, but it’s helpful because you can refer to a collective document that can keep you on the right path.
Lately, one of our clients has been up until 2:00 a.m. having conversations with India, and she seems to always be up really early- maybe 4:00 a.m. or 5 a.m. to have conversations with her manufacturer. In an ideal scenario, you might have a production agent or someone else who is able to help you do that. You don’t have to be the person doing it. However, if you’re the person doing it, have your timeline together. Production management is, in and of itself, a huge task.
Falling short of taking a trip to your manufacturer every time to ensure production is on schedule, get as much of it as you can into writing and get some kind of timeline in place. Also consider quality control- just because someone makes something doesn’t mean it’s going to be good. Find out if you’ll be the quality control person on site or what kind of quality control offerings are on offer.
References are also really important in determining if a manufacturer is going to be a good fit for you.
Sample, Sample, Sample.
Always be sampling because once you do find a manufacturer you like, you’re not going to just shift your entire production to them. You have to sample with them first. And as we all know, in this field of retail, you’re constantly in the process of producing one collection and sampling for another. You never know when you’re going to get a better price or better product. You never know when you’re going to get better managers who are able to help you get that product to customs and the retailer on time- and all of those considerations are extremely valuable and important.
While it costs money to sample, you don’t have to sample your whole line every season with many manufacturers. Take a few pieces and see who’s doing what every season with a small sampling budget.
Hopefully this helps you in your process of dealing with overseas manufacturers. Communication is key, knowing if you have an agent on the ground there to oversee and do quality control, and then making sure your lists of contacts and sampling and the entire process is happening as smoothly as possible. If you need help or you’re ready to take your business to the next level, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.