[i'm so thrilled to introduce stephanie todaro to our d*s team! stephanie was my right hand during the d*s book manuscript process so i promptly scooped her up to join our team as the editor of both the biz ladies and city guides columns. click here (and scroll down) to read more about her. welcome, steph!]
design*sponge is happy to welcome megan auman to the biz ladies column today. megan is a jewelry and home accessories designer and also hosts a blog geared towards the crafting and design business. today, she graciously shares with us some expert advice on how to go about outsourcing the production of your designs.
from determining the best production process, to the right questions to ask a manufacturer, megan discusses everything that goes into getting your designs made in the most cost effective and productive way. thanks megan for sharing your insight with us! -stephanie todaro
CLICK HERE for the full post after the jump!
Outsourcing some or all of the production of your designs can have tremendous benefits in helping you grow your business. By reducing the time you spend making products, you free up valuable time to work on creating new designs, marketing and promoting your business, and driving sales. While it often conjures up images of overseas sweatshops, outsourcing doesn’t have to be a dirty word. It is possible to outsource to a local, sustainable manufacturer that can help you realize your product ideas and grow your business.
Finding a manufacturer that suits your needs can be challenge. Here are some suggestions to make the process easier:
Begin by determining the best manufacturing technique for the product. It is tempting to focus on popular process such as laser cutting or offset printing, but it is more important to spend time examining the best manufacturing process for your product. There are several useful books that can help familiarize you with different manufacturing processes. I’ve compiled a list of these resources on my blog, Crafting an MBA.
It is important that you have a basic understanding of the various processes and industry specific lingo before you contact a manufacturer. This will help develop a stronger relationship between you and the manufacturer, and could help prevent you from being taken advantage of.
How much of a product’s manufacture do you want to outsource? Are you looking to have the entire design manufactured from start to finish, or will it work better to have some processes outsourced but complete the final assembly and finishing in your own studio or shop? Does your potential manufacturer provide more than one service, or will you have to use several manufacturers? If using more than one manufacturer, consider potential scenarios where communication could break down as parts are transferred between various businesses. By setting clear expectations for each manufacturer, in writing, you can minimize headaches down the road.
Finding a manufacturer
Whenever possible, it is best to work with local suppliers and manufacturers. Not only are you supporting a business in your community, you will also have opportunity to be directly involved in any decisions that must be made throughout the manufacturing process. It may sound obvious, but start with the local online yellow pages. You can also utilize your local chamber of commerce – many have a directory of member businesses listed right on their website. It is tempting to ask another designer for the manufacturers they use, but keep in mind that designers spend a lot of time building relationships with their manufacturers, and many treat that information as proprietary. Be prepared to do your own legwork.
You may not be able to find all the manufacturing processes you need in your local area. There are several options for finding manufactures further afield. One good resource is ThomasNet. (thomasnet.com) ThomasNet is an online database of manufacturers and suppliers in the US. You can browse by topic or search for a specific process.
Another approach to finding manufacturers is to identify geographical areas where a certain of manufacturing is located and search for businesses there. For instance, if you were looking for a jewelry manufacturing process, you could search the online yellow pages for Providence, Rhode Island, which is the manufacturing center for the United States jewelry industry.
Once you have a list of potential manufactures, its time to start making calls. Before you do that, make sure you have the conversation mapped out so that you aren’t wasting your time or the manufacturers. This first phone call will set the tone; you want to develop a professional, business relationship with your manufacturers. Be sure to have a thorough understanding of the processes you are interested in, and the industry lingo down. Remember, that your ultimate goal is to find the manufacturer that is the best fit for you. If the first few contacts are not the right match, one may be able to lead your to someone who is a better fit. But if you cannot be clear about what you are looking for, they will have a hard time helping you.
Don’t be afraid to call a manufacturer, even if they aren’t exactly what you are looking for. Manufacturers have connections with other businesses, and if they don’t use the process you are looking for, they may be able to point you in the direction of someone who can. This can also hold true for your existing manufacturers. If you are already outsourcing part of a product’s making, you can ask your current manufacturers for a recommendation.
In addition to specific questions about process and your design, there are other questions you should ask any manufacturer. These include:
-Is there a set-up fee? A minimum order? Do they charge for a quote? What is the pricing structure? At what quantities are the price breaks?
-Who supplies the materials? Do they work with stock materials in their warehouse, or can you supply your own? Is there an additional feel for using specialty materials?
-What is the turn-around time? Does this change with re-orders? This is important if you are planning on wholesaling, and need to have a reliable and consistent production schedule.
-What is the format for submitting your designs? Is there a process for prototyping? Is there an additional fee to change a design after the first prototypes are made?
-Who are their other clients? Which other designers/artists do they work with? Can you contact them for a reference? This is different than asking a designer for their sources. Instead, you are making sure you select a reliable manufacturer who makes quality work.
-Can you take a tour of the facility? If you are local, it is helpful to see where your product is going to be made. This is especially important if you are interested in sustainability and the environmental and working conditions that your product is produced under. It also helps you get a better feel for the manufacturing process, which can help when designing new products.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate a little with the manufacturer. You are entering into a business deal, and you need to make sure it suits the needs of your business. If another company quoted you a lesser price, say so. Just don’t lie. You want to build positive relationships for your business.
It takes time to find a good manufacturer, so don’t be frustrated if you have to make a lot of calls and ask a lot of questions. While you might be anxious to get your product to market, don’t rush this process. Ultimately, you must stand behind the quality of your products, so it pays to take the time to find a manufacturer that works for you.
Megan Auman is a designer and maker specializing in jewelry and home accessories. She has experience making a production line by hand and outsourcing the manufacture of her designs. Megan teaches Metals + Jewelry and Interdisciplinary Object design at Towson University and writes about business thinking for designers and makers at craftMBA.com.