This post is the sixth post in the “From Idea to Product Launch Series“
You want to get your amazing product idea manufactured. How do you find the right manufacturer?
I mentioned in an earlier post, “What Product Idea Should I Develop“, that I spoke to someone at a company that makes similar products and they told me that I would have better luck looking oversees for a manufacturer. I will put a list of resources at the bottom of this post to give you some leads that I did not end up using, but first, I will talk about my journey.
For all of my ideas, the first place I begin a search for manufacturing is local. Internet searches, with various relevant search terms, will let me know if local is an option. I like the idea of local; support the community, able to visit the site, less shipping costs, easier delivery logistics. I thought I found a company that could make one art tool idea but it fell through. I have recently begun to research baking companies and there are some in my state and several around the country that are able to take your recipe and scale it to small or large batch. There are also private label food packers that have products you can order and add your branding. Finding someone to make the Chair CaneTM was not easy, until I found Alibaba. On this site you can browse through all sorts of products. You can order a product, order a product for a private label brand (putting your label on an existing product), customize an existing product, or work with a manufacturer to develop your own, unique product. Some companies will have a mandatory minimum for products but you can find some that will sell 1 item. Those are, generally, higher priced, existing items.
–Side note: it may be worth it to check out AliExpress or Alibaba for anything that you are shopping for that you think has a high markup and you do not need right away.
I narrowed down which manufacturers I would query by looking at their product lines, what materials they work with, reviews, response rates, and if they were a part of the Alibaba Trade Assurance program. Trade Assurance is a program that holds your payments until after your receive the product or after a certain amount of time after shipping is confirmed (Ocean freight shipping takes a long time. I believe my payment was processed a certain number of days after confirmation of receipt by my freight forwarding company).
The company I chose to work with, was able to manufacturer both the metal and rubber components of my product. They had mostly positive reviews and were the right size. They were big enough to handle large orders but not so big that I would need to order a crazy high number of units. My first order was for 500 units. They offered smaller and larger orders. The smaller the order, the higher the cost per unit. I messaged them through Alibaba and have only used that messaging system to negotiate and discuss the product to ensure that there was a record of everything.
Working with the manufacturer to create my product
The first thing that had to be done was translating my drawings to engineer drawings so molds could be made. There were a few rounds of back and forth with drawings to get the measurements and design the way I wanted it. I started with a sketch that I had made for the patent attorney There were measurements, angles, shapes, and descriptions. The first drawing I received back had some measurements that would have decreased the function of the product. I corrected those and tried to provide a range of possible measurements to allow their engineer to choose what would work best for the machines and the materials. Some measurements were a little different but I did not correct as it would not change the function.
Once the design was settled, they made the molds and 3 samples. They did need to rework the first mold to make the end result better. They did that correction prior to making the final samples and communicated to me what was going on with the process. The samples were mailed to me and we started to work on the box design while it was in transit. The printer software required Adobe Illustrator file format and I used the free trial that Adobe offers. The company I used does not make boxes but they found a company local to them that does. The price of the boxes was acceptable. I probably could find slightly less expensive boxes, but they were able to look at the box samples, send me pictures, descriptions, and their recommendations on appearance and thickness of the materials. Later, during the full 500 unit run, they were able to assemble the product and pack each box.
The samples they sent looked great. I did have one issue with how the product functioned and did not want to move forward with the production if it could not be addressed. I sent some pictures and a video showing them my concern. They were quickly able to present solution options that I agreed should fix the issue.
The sample box and new sample product were mailed out. I will want to adjust some things on the next run to improve the box design but it was a go for production.
The samples that were mailed to me were all relatively small packages and the manufacturer arranged the shipments. There were some delays in these shipments. I have no idea if the delays were random, regular events or if COVID-19 was the cause of the delay. I have my guess. The full pallet shipment was also delayed. That may have been due to the increase in number of shipments coming to port at that time. I am planning on discussing the freight forwarding process in another post. I still get a headache just thinking about it; however, most of the headaches came from me just having never done it before and being introduced to new terms and considerations.