Where do I start?
How do I find Manufacturers?
How do I pick the right Manufacturer?
Finding and choosing a Manufacturer is pretty straightforward and the same steps can be used to find a Manufacturer to make you clothes, tech gear, or even food!
For this example, let's say you want to have a wrist watch manufactured as your first product.
Before you even consider searching for and approaching a wrist watch Manufacturer, there are 2 things you need to check off on your to do list.
1. You are going to need some sort of drawings to showcase this watch to a Manufacturer, be it a sketch, a professional drawing, or a graphic design.
You can do this yourself or hire a professional freelancer for the job. When I need a professional freelancer, I find them on Fiverr.com.
2. Put together some written notes describing the details of the watch.
This information could include band sizes, type of battery, colors, materials to be used on the band, the face of the watch etc.
Make sure to put detail into these drawings and written notes, since you want the Manufacturer to have a good idea as to what you want so they can give a proper quote. Another reason why this is so important is that if you approach a Manufacturer empty handed, with just an idea in your thoughts, they won't take you very seriously. They are VERY busy and will completely ignore you unless you prove to them you mean business.
Now it is time to go out searching for Manufacturers. Don't be so intimidated though, during the time I am writing this, we are in 2021 and we no longer need to get a plane ticket, hop on a plane and go to a country that specializes in Manufacturing to make our ideas a reality. There is a website you can use instead! It's called ALIBABA.COM
ALIBABA is a marketplace that connects Manufacturers to businesses looking to purchase wholesale, be it a fully custom item, or a pre-made items they have sitting in their warehouse.
Most people ask me: "How do I know these manufacturers are legit". We'll first of all, Manufacturers have to pay a hefty fee of 10 grand just to join ALIBABA as a Supplier/Manufacturer, so that is already a pretty good vetting process. Second of all, these homies are trying to make money. Ripping off 1 person for a couple grand and then being kicked off the platform isn't the smartest money making move.
Now let's discuss how to use and browse ALIBABA. I personally like to use their app, since I like to lay in bed when I work, LOL. Their app is blessed and is very user friendly. I don't see any benefit to using the desktop version over the app or vice versa. It's the same shit. Do what you prefer.
When you first get on ALIBABA.COM, similar to Amazon, you will see a search bar at the top of the page, and some categories and recommendations below it. Let's start searching! Let's keep it simple and search "WRIST WATCH". You could search "WATCH" but that will probably show you more than you want to see, like stop watches, clocks, pocket watches etc. Your goal should be to narrow your search so you don't have to rummage through a bunch of Manufacturers that cannot do what you need.
After you search for "WRIST WATCH" your will need to find the "REFINE" tab. If you are using the ALIBABA app, this will be on the top right side, below the search bar. Click "REFINE" and scroll all the way to the bottom. The last 2 check boxes you should see will be "VERIFIED SUPPLIER" and "TRADE ASSURANCE".
As the name suggests, a Verified Supplier, is verified by ALIBABA as being legit. Trade Assurance means that ALIBABA will provide insurance/coverage on orders made with this Manufacturer that offer Trade Assurance. Neither of these are necessary, but I make sure to use Manufacturers that fall under these two categories. I won't go into detail into what the Trade Assurance coverage includes in this Journal entry, but I might dive into this in the future. A Google search will probably give you a good answer too.
Now that you have refined your search, you should see A LOT of listings. Every listing you see, IS NOT a different Manufacturer. Each Manufacturer will most likely have many listings. The more listings they have, the more likely you will come across their listing, which is why they do it.
Each of these listings will have 9 pieces of information that are clearly listed. To be honest, most of this information is pretty irrelevant to me when I am doing my searches but I will still discuss it:
1. Product picture: This is irrelevant because if the product picture has a Watch with a leather strap, this does not mean that they can't make a watch with a metal or silicone strap.
2. Product title: This is irrelevant because they usually just throw in a bunch of key words that do not make a proper sentence so their listings pop up often.
3. Customization tags: There will either be no tag, a "ready to ship" tag or a "customizable" tag. This is irrelevant, because most of the manufacturers I have messaged that had a "ready to ship" tag were also able to customize items. If you see the "ready to ship" tag, this just means they have finished products sitting in their warehouse that they can pack and mail out to you tomorrow, but this DOES NOT mean that they can't do customizations as well.
4. Price tag: If you are planning on getting a customized product, this is irrelevant since your product price will depend on what you are looking for, and even if you were planning on buying a "ready to ship" item, the price tag is also irrelevant since the price fluctuates if you are trying to buy 10 watches, 100 watches or 1000 watches. It is also important to note that the price you see does not include shipping and import taxes.
5. MOQ (Minimum Order Quantity): If the MOQ is 10, then this means you have to buy at least 10 watches from the Manufacturer to accept your order. This is also irrelevant since it is subjective on your order. If you have a very simple order, they will probably accept a small MOQ of 1, 10, 25 or 50 pieces. If your order is more complicated it can increase from 100 pieces - 10,000 pieces. In my first year of dealing with Manufacturers, my largest order quantity was 300 pieces and my smallest was 25 pieces. It is important to note that the smaller your order quantity is, the more expensive your items will cost on an individual basis.
6. Country of Manufacturing: ALIBABA accepts manufacturers from all over the world, including USA, but the majority of the Manufacturers are based in China.
7. Year stamp: This tells you how long a Manufacturer has been listed on ALIBABA. The longer they have been on ALIBABA does not always mean they are the better Manufacturer, which is why I would also say this info is irrelevant.
8. Verified Supplier stamp.
9. Trade Assurance stamp.
Therefore, the only things you will need to pay attention to are numbers 6, 8 and 9, listed above.
The next step is to start messaging the Manufacturers. Below are a list of questions you should be looking to get answered before spending any money:
1. Can this manufacturer make my product? Show them your drawings and written notes. If it is a yes, then you're blessed to keep asking questions. If it is a no, move on. Keep in mind that these Manufacturers are usually in a different time zone so if you want to have a proper conversation with them, you'll have to message them during their work hours or else a conversation that could be had in 30 minutes of back and forth instant messaging may take up to a week to have. I am in Toronto, Canada and usually deal with Manufacturers in China so I usually wait until about 11pm before I start messaging manufacturers and I will stay up for a few hours so that I can have a proper conversation with them.
2. What would the MOQ (Minimum Order Quantity) for my product be? If you are starting off as a new brand, don't over extend yourself. Yes, ordering 25 watches may cost you a lot on an individual basis compared to ordering 2000 watches but don't worry about making a profit on your first few sales. It's safer to order 25 watches to test the market and see if you can even push that many. Most likely you will lose money on those first 25 watches you sell, since they end up being too expensive to competitively price, but at least your aren't stuck with 2000 watches and no clue how to sell them. Start small and find a manufacturer that will accept a 25-100 piece order, even if the watch costs you $100 each for 25 pieces instead of $10 each if you buy 2000. You'll be spending $2,500 to test a market and start your brand with little to no room for a profit margin, instead of $20,000 initial costs with tons of space for profit margins. When I first started, my first few orders were anywhere from $500-$2,500 and not penny more. I am 3 years into this brand, and have recently spent $30,000 with 1 Manufacturer on inventory for the first time. I only did this because I know I can move inventory and have developed good marketing skills and a strong social media presence to support this purchase order. PACE YOURSELF!
3. How much will a sample cost? Before you order anything in bulk, GET A SAMPLE. More than 1 actually. Find a handful of Manufacturers that can make your product, and willl do a reasonable MOQ that is within your budget, and then order a sample from each one of them. It is important to note that samples are EXPENSIVE AF! Expect to spend roughly about $100 for 1 t-shirt sample. This may come off as expensive to a beginner in the industry but it is not. You are just used to retail pricing. When you purchase a product from me for example, a t-shirt may cost $35. Why? Because I ordered 500 t-shirts from a Manufacturer and got wholesale pricing and I have it sitting on a shelf ready to go. If you go to a Manufacturer and ask for 1 CUSTOM t-shirt, they have to make it from scratch. They will have to cut the fabric, dye it, print on it, package it and mail it out in a short period of time. The price tag to do this is not cheap.
Now you sit and wait for the samples.
Once you receive them, compare them, find flaws, and make your final decision.
Your final decision should depend on a handful of things:
1. Who made the best product?
2. Who was easy to deal with and talk to?
3. Who produced the sample in a timely manner?
4. Who was willing and able to correct any flaws you noticed on the samples?
5. Who's pricing/MOQ is reasonable and within your budget?
6. Who values you as a customer?
That's pretty much it!
If you read all of this and are full of doubts and worries, don't stress, it's honestly not that hard. It just takes practice, time and commitment.
If you read all of this and are like "THIS SHIT IS SOFT, I GOT THIS", I like the drive but chill, it takes practice, time and commitment.
I have included an introduction template you can use when you first contact a manufacturer below. I have typed it in BOLD font. You don't need to use it, but make sure you approach each manufacturer professionally and leave a good first impression. If you seem like you have no idea what you are doing and are a beginner, they won't take you seriously or will probably rip you off. Anything I included in a bracket [...] below is meant for you and not the manufacturer so make sure to take those parts out.
My name is __________, and I am the owner of a _____________ [clothing brand/jewelry brand/....] who deals directly to the consumer.
I am seeking a manufacturer to create a new product idea. I will include some drawings and a breakdown of what I am looking for after sending this message.
Please review these and confirm if you can make this custom item for me.
My MOQ is ____ [let them know how many pieces you are looking for].
I look forward to hearing from you.
BAM, that's it! Now get to work!
If you have any questions or want me to clarify on anything I mentioned or did not mention, leave a comment and I'll try and get back to you ASAP.