How to find a manufacturer
I started this blog as a means to inspire and encourage others, especially those starting on this crazy journey of entrepreneurship. It has turned out to be a bit of everything, from my personal experiences, to the struggles of starting a business, to the celebrations along the way. As the business has grown, I find myself falling behind in the stories that I want to share. Getting caught up in all of the craziness from day to day, sometimes can be a bit distracting. I also receive emails from other aspiring entrepreneurs on a regular basis, and although I would desperately love to take the time to respond to each one individually, I often just can't seem manage this. So, this morning, I wanted to take just a few minutes to respond to a few questions I have received recently, and to let you know, that I am truly inspired by you, those of you on this journey, fighting to achieve your dream! Your emails do not go unread, just a little delayed in response.
The first question that I wanted to address, as this is probably the #1 inquiry that I receive, is how on earth to find a manufacturer for your products. Honestly, I wish I had the magical answer. This is still something I struggle with on a daily basis. We have been fortunate to find a few wonderful factories, but as you grow, so do your obstacles. We have found that some of our factories can't seem to meet our demands as we are growing. Believe it or not, we have an order that we placed back in October of last year, with a promised SHIP date of January 15th, which is still not here. And get this, not only is it not here, they haven't even produced them yet. These are the things that not only make me crazy, but also make me realize that we are not working with the right factories. We used to give all of our business to one person, I quickly learned a hard lesson that this is not a good idea. It only makes sense, but you can not have all of your eggs in one basket. Even a small delay penalty does not come close to affecting any factory the way that a serious delay will affect your business. I don't think they understand the massive costs that go into delays and errors, and realistically many of them don't care. This is where you just have to do your diligence. So, if you are at the start of this very long road, here are just a few tips I have to share:
1) Research, research, research. Get in touch with as many factories as you can, communicate with them and start to get a feel for who they are.
2) You can tell a lot about how a factory will treat you purely by their response time with your inquiry emails. Do they seem like they are willing to work for your business? Are they willing to start small with you? Do they take 2-3 days to get back with you consistently...then this is what will happen when there is an urgent issue and you need their help.
3) Give them a test order. Don't give a new factory your full production. Give them a small starter order of 1-2 styles and see how they do. Do they put the effort into your small order that you would expect on your larger order? Do they treat you like you are two small to deserve their attention? If so, they are not someone you want to grow with. Do you feel as though they try to take advantage of you...run!! This has to be a partnership in some way. They have to be willing to work for you and you must be willing to bend for them. If they are not in it with you, then find someone who will be.
4) If you have the feeling that you should find a new factory, but are overwhelming by the work involved, then you just have to suck it up. The process is so long, that if you put it off, you will find yourself in a place where you NEED a new factory, and don't have time to venture through the process of finding them. Then, you end up working with someone by necessity instead of by choice, which is never good.
5) A few places to look...obviously manufacturers are not going to tell you where they make their garments. When I was first starting out, I didn't fully understand this. Why didn't anyone want to give me a hand? They had been at this place at one time too. I vowed that I would be different, I would help others. Well, a few years later, having been copied by numerous companies, one of which that had the audacity to call me personally asking for advice before launching her own line of ruffled bloomers. Funny enough when I addressed this little incidence, she denied everything, got nasty, and then went and copied our website design. I want to trust everyone, but this has been something that I have personally had to deal with over the years. I learned that I can not trust everyone, but I have also learned that I still want to remain true to who I am. So, back to where to look...start with websites like www.Alibaba.com, www.apparelsearch.com, and www.tradett.com. If you find someone that you like, but they are not able to do your product, ask for recommendations. Be cautious and ask lots of questions - if they seem bothered, move on. No question is a dumb question, even if you are new.
6) Follow your gut and don't give up. This is my last time on this subject. If you get a bad feeling, don't force it. If they convince you that no one else will take your order since it is so small, walk away. If your samples arrive and look awful, then start over with someone else. If they ship your first order late, know this will probably be the norm for them.
This is a very tough piece of the puzzle, but you will get there. It takes time, patience, and a ton of lessons learned, but you will eventually arrive at a place where it all starts to come together. But let me tell you, at least for me personally, it never ends. There will always be issues to work through when it comes to manufacturing, they just become a lot easier to handle as you start to put together a team of people that you trust and can count on.