What do I need to have before sourcing factories?

As an entrepreneur developing an invention, it’s important to know at what points you can begin sourcing manufacturers and engage in discussions with them.  Every manufacturer is different, the people you deal with at each factory will have different personalities, and there can be differences between the way manufacturing businesses behave in the United States, as opposed to, say China, India, and Europe.

Typically, whichever country you are sourcing factories in, you will want to have a complete, or nearly complete product design package to share with a manufacturer when you begin sourcing.  By “product design package”, I’m referring to the information which describes your product design.  This may include CAD drawings, product samples or prototypes, a bill of materials, patterns, or other information.  The kind of information you present will depend on the kind of product you’re planning to manufacture.  Whether the factory speaks Chinese, English, or another language, this information allows the factory personnel to quickly understand your product via the drawings, information, and numerical data you’re providing them.

The presentation of the information and the kind information you share is ESSENTIAL to getting the project off on the right foot.  In fact, with so much talk about product quality in the media, it’s important to know that manufacturing high-quality products begins with a high-quality product design package.  In addition, as a start-up or entrepreneur without brand awareness, a professional-looking design package can help you gain credibility with suppliers and they are more likely to respond positively to you because they see that you understand the sourcing and manufacturing process.

Manufacturers are accustomed to quoting packages of product design information because that’s what established companies tend to send them to review.  However, established companies also have more experience in putting together these packages of information, as well as more resources to pay engineers and designers to help them assemble well-thought out documentation of their products that usually reflect a realistic, cost-effective, manufacturable product.

As a start-up or entrepreneur, you may not have access to these kinds of resources to get this information.  In fact, many inventors at the product design stage need feedback on how to manufacture their product (e.g. which materials to use, how to make it cost effective, what features to include while staying within a realistic cost, which idea to pursue, etc.).  In some cases, you’ll need to hire a product design firm or engineering firm no matter what.  In other cases, you may be able to actually draw on manufacturers themselves and gain this kind of feedback at a much reduced cost or for free.

If you are able to source a manufacturer and develop a good relationship, that manufacturer may be willing to provide manufacturing feedback and cost information on various aspects of your design.  As I mentioned, sourcing a supplier during the design phase can also be extremely valuable for numerous reasons: 1) you can gain cost feedback on different design features, materials, packaging, etc., 2) you can also understand how various design decisions will impact tooling costs, molding costs, lead times, and minimum order quantities, 3) when you are ready to source suppliers to quote, this factory will already be intimately familiar with your product.

Some factories may be willing to provide feedback when there is no prior sourcing relationship, but this will be very hit or miss.  You can try this, but you should know that you may end up turning off a good manufacturer because you approached them with a design package that looks unprofessional.  With this approach, you may simply need to contact a lot of manufacturers until you find one that can work with you on these issues.  Not exactly a recipe for success if you’re looking to get your product to market in this decade.  Alternatively, you can find references to hook into networks of good factories that you know will respond positively.


Thanks to GSS for making our product a reality!

Julia Houck-Whitaker
President & Founder, Hem Gems LLC