How to find a manufacturer for your product

If you're a startup creating a product, you might choose to either make your product yourself or to manufacture through a third party. While making your product during the early stages of your business  might be the best option for you, as your business scales up things get more complicated - you might not be able to cope with the demand, you'll probably require expensive insurance or licensing, and you'll bankrupt yourself on delivery pizza because nobody can use the kitchen when it's been taken over by 1,000 orders. But how can you find the right manufacturer to make your product?

Gemma Allies is the founder of SkinSincere, an all-natural skincare brand that's free from parabens and packed with skin-loving ingredients. She works with manufacturers to create her products - here's her experience.

Starting steps

I found a manufacturer for my skincare products online, after many long, arduous hours of trawling the internet.  Manufacturers are well-hidden, and although they are out there, finding them is a real challenge.  Add to that the difficulty of finding a supplier that shares your brand values and ideas, and you begin to appreciate the challenges small businesses face. My products are made in the UK, which is not only really convenient for me, but also a big selling point of SkinSincere.  People like to ‘buy British’, and I also think the fact that it is manufactured fairly locally adds to the charm of the business.

It was difficult for me to try several manufacturers, because some of them have huge minimum order quantities. Even the mid-sized firms with 10,000 minimum order quantities are completely unattainable for startups.  After researching I decided to try three different manufacturers, although I have kept the others in my remit.  What I really found difficult is the lack of buying power startups have, and often this is reflected in the attitudes the suppliers have towards you.  I cannot understand it, because to me a customer that order one low-value item could become your most loyal, frequent customer within a couple of years.

Staying involved

I stay involved by working closely with my main supplier.  We are on very good terms, which I think is important as their actions directly impact my business and customers. Rather than sending a purchase order over, we discuss my requirements for each order.  I manage to have an input in product ingredients and fragrance options, which is hugely important for me, and I always seek advice on which products work best and why.  This means that I am able to tailor my products to my target customers, and pass on my product knowledge.

I did consider manufacturing myself, and I still do from time to time.  The problem is that it would be massively labour-intensive, taking away from my ability to manage the day-to-day running of the business.  Not only that, but it would also require a great deal of investment in specialist equipment, numerous legal obstacles and added investment for insurance and changing the legal status of the company.

Finding the manufacturer that's right for you

I think the most important things for startups is they need to find a manufacturer who has common values.  They should not adapt their business to their manufacturer, but instead spent the extra time and effort finding a manufacturer that suits their needs.  I think good ethics is extremely important, and also having a manufacturer that is trustworthy and reliable.  If they are not any of those things then it is quite possible that you will come unstuck.

I also think that, difficult as it is, startups need to find as many potential suppliers as possible, even if they have a main supplier they order from.  It is difficult, but spreading that risk and hedging your bets will cover your business even if things go wrong for the manufacturer.

The process for me was reasonably simple, because I knew in my mind long before placing the initial order what it was that I needed.  Luckily my market research helped shape my product range, and the supplier was able to easily meet my requirements.  I had tried samples of the product and I was happy with the quality and service offered.  There have been a couple of blips along the way, but these have been addressed quickly and appropriately, and I think it is good to discover any teething problems early on.


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