Manufacturing Do’s & Don’t’s

Last month, I received two emails from mom entrepreneurs that scared the daylights out of me.
 
One told me she had wired money & given the greenlight on production of her product without a signed contract! She was running into delays & didn’t know what she should do.
 
Another was contemplating signing a contract after only seeing minimums & pricing–no production samples! She wondered what would happen if the quality was shoddy after paying for the entire run.
 
OH. MY. GOD.
 
So, I called on my former design & production guru, Linda Lednum, and we teamed up to go over the do’s & don’t’s of contract manufacturing.
 
Linda was the person who took Swaddleaze & Blankeaze from a concept inside my head to actual products sold around the country! Linda was in the textile industry as master patternmaker, product development manager, or quality control manger for 28 years. Her primary responsibilities were to work with designers on development of the first pattern, oversee the approval sample construction, grade the pattern and make costing & production markers. Her favorite part was always the patternmaking, so she bought the  CAD software and hardware and started her own company in 2006.
 
Linda & I came up with some manufacturing “do’s” and “don’t’s” for anyone having their first production run done.
 
Here’s what we came up with:
 

Do’s:

1. Discuss the item to be manufactured–explain the concept of your product, show them samples, drawings, patterns, etc. See if your product is something they can manufacture.
 
 
2. Request production samples–this is very important, whether the manufacturer is an Alibaba.com “Gold Supplier” or comes highly recommended by a friend. You want to see their work and make sure the quality is at the level you expect.  Be sure to ask them who is responsible for the shipping fees for production samples. I had to provide my FedEx account number to pay for all samples shipped.
 
 
3. Review production samples & either approve or request changes–this is a crucial step because in order to give accurate pricing, minimums, delivery dates and a written contract, the production samples need to be finalized and approved.
 
 
4. Once production samples are approved, ask for pricing, terms, delivery dates and a written contract. Agree on specific dates when samples and production will be shipped. Also, it does no harm to put in a penalty course (usually a reduction in payment) if shipment is delayed.
 
 
5. Sign contract and wire funds–usually half the amount is expected up front before production begins. The manufacturer will give you their wiring instructions (includes bank name, address, account number, etc and is sometimes called “wiring advice”). You can take this to your bank to complete the transaction. There is usually a small fee ($20-$50) for a wire transfer.
 
 
6. Confirm receipt of wired funds & greenlight production.
 
 
7. Once production is complete, request one piece per color, per style for final review before wiring payment balance.
 
 
 

Don’t’s:

 
1. Don’t feel like you have to give a manufacturer a production contract just because they’ve provided production samples.
 
 
2. DO NOT move forward with the production process until you are 100% satisfied with the production samples the manufacturer has provided.
 
 
3. Never greenlight production without approved samples and a written, signed contract that clearly states quantity, pricing and delivery dates.
 
 
4. Do NOT wire final payment until you have received, reviewed & approved one piece per color, per style.
 
 
5. Never pass up a chance to run your numbers and your thoughts by me –feel free to email me at themogulmom (at) gmail (dot) com with any questions or concerns.
 
 

Asides:

For kids and infant items especially it’s wise to have quality, performance and safety testing done at a labs such as Intertek or Bureau Veritas until you are comfortable with the manufacturer’s testing. Refer to the CPSC’s guidelines for your product’s particular testing instructions & requirements.
 
 

Have a manufacturing experience or tip you’d like to share? Comment on this post–together, we can help each other!

 
 

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Heather Allard

Heather Allard is a mom of three kids + one big rescue dog. She's a wellness buff, an essential oil educator with dōTERRA, and a self-professed “entrepreneur to the core”.
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23 Comments

  1. Lisa

    Just found this site and I’m so excited about this article. Haven’t read all of the comments, but so far, they have been so helpful…thank you, thank you, thank you!

    I’m just now exploring the idea of manufacturing my own line and this article alone has been so enlightening.

    I look forward to being apart of this community!

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Welcome aboard! Glad you’re enjoying The Mogul Mom so far! 🙂

      Reply
  2. Sarah

    Hello! Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have spent the better part of two weeks emailing factories in China, scouring google, Alibaba, Tradekey & DHgate! I feel truly blessed to have stumbled upon this site.

    I am designing/launching a line of children’s clothes and though I have big dreams, I have little sewing skill… I will definitely contact Linda with my designs.

    Several of the factories I unearthed were open to the idea of creating the pattern / prototype for me (at a fairly low cost), but I feel uncomfortable about that given the language barrier and inevitable back & forth.

    I have plenty of questions for you. Would you mind if I pick your brain via email?

    Reply
  3. Ivy

    I just stumbled across this site and all I can say is wow! I only have the glimmer of an idea in my head, but so many of my preliminary manufacturing questions were anwered. And Heather, I think it is amazing that you are so open and willing to share information, it’s almost unheard of but so refreshing!!
    Thank You,
    Ivy

    Reply
  4. Carolyn Carter

    I am soo happy I found this website! You have given me a lot of resources and contacts.

    I am also looking for a manufacturer to produce a toddler product that I have invented called the Clingy Cord. I need to get manufacturing started very soon and I have been having a really hard time finding one. I do have a contact in Hong Kong but I cannot afford to wait 60 to 90 days to get my products and I am not sure what my costs will be. I have a ton of questions that I don’t want to put on here, but if anyone is able to assist me, point me in the right direction or can lend an ear I would really appreciate the help.

    Thanks,
    Carolyn

    Reply
  5. Renu

    I am thinking about using Protosew for a product I am working on. On the posts above, it sounds like some of you may have used them. Any reviews? Were you satisfied with them?

    Reply
  6. Stephanie Lindquist

    I LOVE this post, very helpful with the beginings of our new business! a few questions:

    we have been told that product testing for a cosmetic/cream type product will cost $200k and that seems crazy to me…your thoughts? What is the price range for working with a company like Intertek (Innotech? LOL)

    Also, many suppliers on a site like Alibaba.com charge a LOT of money for shipping their “free sample” like over $100…is that normal?

    what are your thoughts on producing a USA made product vs. from overseas and last but not least

    is it reasonable to expect to make a product yourself at first and then later down the road pay a manufacterer.

    thanks Heather!

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Stephanie,

      Glad you liked the post.

      About Intertek–honestly I don’t know what the cost is to test a cosmetics product. You might ask Holly Thaggard from Supergoop.

      $100 to ship a free sample from overseas is probably “normal” since they usually ship by FedEx overnight or 2-3 day. If you have your own FedEx account, ask them to ship it to you, bill your account and use the most affordable shipping method.

      My thoughts on producing a USA made product vs. an overseas made product? It really depends what you’re making, Stephanie and how much time & money you have to spend. In my experience with a sewn product, it was MUCH easier and cheaper to have my products made overseas by a “door-to-door” manufacturer. I loved my US manufacturer (they’ve since gone out of business) but I had to order all the materials/packaging and have them shipped to them. They did the basic cut/sew, packed them and shipped them. After all was said and done, I paid $15/item in the US vs. $5.85/item overseas (and that included EVERYTHING–fabric, zippers, Velcro, packaging, cut/sew, etc) and they packed it, shipped it and arranged for customs clearance.

      Yes, it is reasonable to consider making a product yourself at first and then outsourcing production later on as your sales grow. That’s what many small companies do. I had no sewing skills, so I never made any of my products but I did ship them from my basement for a year before outsourcing fulfillment. 😉

      I hope this answers your questions. Email me if I can help you with anything else.

      Heather

      Reply
  7. Cally Robson

    Great post Heather.
    Here’s another thought to add…

    Most people go to manufacturers to get advice or possible costs on manufacture WAY TOO SOON.

    It feels like the natural next step, but it’s the equivalent of putting your head in the lion’s mouth if you

    1) haven’t got the right protection in place for the Intellectual Property (IP) in your idea.
    2) say too much to the wrong kind of manufacturer ie one who might have a vested interest in running off copies of your idea and distributing them through other channels.

    Make sure you’ve done your research, know about your IP, know where your manufacturer’s interests lie, and have your sales plan in place BEFORE you lay out your idea completely in front of a manufacturer.

    Cally
    The Association of Women Inventors and Product Entrepreneurs

    Reply
    • Heather Allard

      Cally–thank you for your thoughtful comment. I agree with you 100%. You have to always protect yourself & your ideas before going to a manufacturer. It’s a good idea to have a non-disclosure form in your bag of tricks! 🙂 Would love to learn more about you & your company!

      Thanks again.
      Heather

      Reply
  8. Ashley

    Such good advice…
    I’m usually so excited to get the product in my hands and out to our fans, that I skip over the “send me a sample” step…After reading your article, I’m thinking maybe that’s not the best policy on my part.

    Thanks!
    Ashley (@Pluckypea)

    Reply
  9. Linda

    Oh the joys of manufacturing. Somehow I feel this was written for me 🙂 Thanks for another great post. I am bookmarking this one as my home page for the next week!

    Reply
    • Heather

      Linda,
      What gives you that idea? 🙂 I hope you like the post…and I hope you reply to today’s post, “The Mogul Mom Features…YOU!”. I love your story & I’m sure others would too!

      Heather

      Reply
  10. LeNesha

    P.S. I’ve used Linda at the Pattern Department and definitely recommend her services as she is professional, timely, and is willing to go the extra mile to educate you on the manufacturing process.

    Also, If anyone else has used Protosew, please share your experience.

    Thanks

    Reply
  11. LeNesha

    This is an AWESOME post!!! I am in the process of developing my own product. I’m currently in the prototype/sample development stage and am also looking for both U.S. and overseas manufacturers. Here are two tips that I picked up thus far:
    1) I’m currently reading a book entitled “the Mom Inventors Handbook” which provided some great resources and tools including how to go about manufacturing.
    2) For fabric based products, protosew.com is a recommended (by the book) prototype developer for textile products. They are willing to provide lots of free non-biased advise and recommendations for the manufacturing process both in the U.S. and overseas. I have just started using them and will let you know how I like them after I’ve had time to really try them out.

    Receiving an initial order from an overseas manufacturer can take anywhere from 60 – 90 days from the time of approval of a product, I was advised that if I want to have a quicker turn around for my initial order, I should obtain my initial order from a U.S. manufacturer as they have quicker turn around times and can typically work with smaller orders. What are your thoughts about starting with U.S. manufacturers in order to obtain initial supply of product quicker and then moving overseas?

    Cheers!

    Reply
    • Heather

      Hi LeNesha,

      I’m so happy that you had a great experience with Linda at the Pattern Department–she is wonderful.

      Maybe I’ll add “The Mom Inventors Handbook” to my list of resources on this post–thank you.

      Now, about starting with U.S. manufacturers and then moving overseas–I’m not sure if that’s the logical path for everyone producing a product but it certainly may make first timers feel safer about the experience. What’s great about working with Linda Lednum is that she’s U.S. based & works directly with a Chinese manufacturer–you get the best of both worlds. 🙂

      Thanks so much for your great comments!
      Heather

      Reply
    • Shelby

      Just curious how your experience with Protosew went. I appreciate your feedback.

      Thanks,

      Reply
      • Heather Allard

        Hi Shelby – not sure if you were asking me or someone else, but I never used ProtoSew. Heather

        Reply
  12. Roxanne Beckford Hoge

    This is good, solid advice. I have lucked out before, but I’ve also been caught with hundreds of dresses that are unsellable. I would say, don’t go it alone. When I had a person on board (paid her as a consultant) to do all the above steps, manufacturing went a lot smoother! Good luck — I wish people who rail against business could see what goes into making even one product work. We’re all investing our blood, sweat, tears and cash in the hopes of making someone else’s life a little better, so remember that when you get down!

    Reply
    • Heather

      Thanks, Roxanne. I agree with you–the process is much easier when you have someone who knows the ropes to help you. And, it takes so much work to bring even one product to market. You have to stay motivated, focused and surround yourself with positive, helpful people.

      Heather

      Reply
  13. Laurie

    Thanks for posting this, Heather! This is such great information and a valuable resource to have. I am a retailer, but I am very interested in developing my own products. This information will give me a starting point. I will keep this page bookmarked for sure. Thank you!!!

    Reply
  14. Courtney-The Apple of My Eye

    AWESOME! Thank you so much for posting this! This information is so valuable to new and old mompreneurs and it is the key needed to unlock the door and move forward! Thanks again! I am going to forward this to my mompreneur friends and post it on the mompreneursonline.com forum. YOU ROCK!

    Reply
    • Heather

      Why thank you very much! 🙂 Appreciate you passing along the info to your mom entrepreneur friends & online forum. You rock, too. 😉

      Heather

      Reply

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