Finding a Manufacturer

Finding a Manufacturer

Let's Make Your Product a Reality! 

You have an awesome idea- but how do you go about physically creating it? Some forms of art are straight forward like resin crafts, paintings, sculptures, etc. Other forms of created good like enamel pins, keychains, or bags may require the help of a production partner. Let's get into it! 

In this blog we'll explore; 

  • What is a manufacturer 
  • Types of suppliers
  • Domestic or Overseas
  • How to find the best manufacturer for your needs


What is a Manufacturer? 

  A manufacturer uses a set process and procedures to make goods- usually in larger repeatable quantities. The benefit of having a manufacturer is that they have access to use equipment and tools to make product development at larger scales as efficient as possible. A good comparison is to think of it like a bakery. Maybe you don't have the tools to make 100 cakes for your customers at a repeatable quality, but a bakery does and can work with you to help streamline the process. 

  Those who don't use manufacturers would be considered artisans. Artisans typically create one-of-a-kind goods by hand from start to finish. Like an original painting. However, if you wanted to sell prints of that painting, you may seek out help from a printing shop to manufacture high quality prints of your work that you can then sell at a larger scale. Manufacturers should always be viewed as production partners as they help the creator expand their work and business to make it more broadly accessible. 

  How do creators come in? You'll typically work hand-in-hand with your production partners as their sort of "manager" to guide the process to get the product you'd like. Something as small as an enamel pin has so many factors customized by the creator. You'll tell them the size, artwork, metal type, enamel colors, etc- and your production partner will take your instructions to make your product a reality! It's a team effort and both members are key to the process for larger scale goods. 


Types of Suppliers 

  It's worth noting that not all suppliers are solely manufacturers. As a small business, you'll most likely want to exclusively work with factories that focus on making custom products. This is the most cost effective method, but also the most involved method. Factories that make customized products are going to be the manufacturers you'll want to work with to make your product idea come to life. This way, it's your original work made with the help of your production partner. 

  Wholesalers, Middlemen, and Dropshippers are other forms of suppliers. Going back to the bakery example, a simple way to think of it is like; 

- Wholesalers buy products in bulk from factories or artists to resell them. A wholesaler could be someone who buys 100 premade cakes from a bakery or artisan (at a discount for buying in bulk) so that they can then resell those cakes to their customers at a profit. If you're an artist, utilizing a wholesaler is a great method to make some money on the side of your small business and push your products into the world. Having your work in bigger stores, sites, and outlets is a great way for publicity and as an additional stream of income.

- Middlemen typically work with factories to facilitate the creation of goods. This would be like working with a representative for a third party company that has access to many different bakeries and works with you to customize your 100 cake order so that you can sell those cakes to your customers. Sometimes when you're starting out, this is an easy option if you don't know how/don't want to get too involved with finding the best bakery. Middlemen are a good option if you're just starting out and need the expertise and guidance of someone who has more experience than you working with factories. 

- Dropshippers do not handle anything on the creative side. They typically buy/store inventory and handle fulfillment and shipping directly to consumers. These are similar to wholesalers, except there is typically no creative involvement. They are exactly as the term is, you drop off products to them and they ship it. If your business grows big enough, utilizing a dropshipper to handle fulfilment for you is a great option. Just keep in mind, that dropshippers typically take a cut of your profits in order to complete this service. 

Now that you know a bit more about different suppliers and how they function, as an artist/creator, you'll most likely want to work exclusively with a direct manufacturer or middleman starting out. 


Domestic vs Overseas

  Choosing a manufacturer typically involves the straightforward calculation of costs vs potential sales profits. As a fresh new business, you'll also have to weigh what options may be best for you. Do you want to exclusively work with domestic production partners? Do you want to seek out companies that strive to be more environmentally friendly? Do you want to only work with local partners? Do you want to work with overseas partners to provide lower costs to your customers? There's a lot of factors you will have to decide for the direction of your small business. 

  Ultimately, the deciding factors will likely be specific to your product; your choices will be limited by which factories have the the right manufacturing expertise and where you can find the raw materials you need at a cost you can afford. For example, China is the leading manufacturer of enamel pins because domestic regulations restrict the production of enamel pins in the U.S. Or maybe you have a local print shop that can print an artbook for you that may be more cost effective due to you being within driving distance. 

  Overseas manufacturing typically comes at a much lower cost than factories in the U.S. This is due to competition and the fact that there are simply more factories overseas that have learned how to maximize efficiency and produce items cheaply. Some of the trade-offs of working with overseas production partners may be lower wages for factory workers, sub-par environmental standards, or even just a language barrier making communication a little more difficult. (In regard to communication, however, I've found that an increasing number of overseas factories have translators or those adept in English to help make the communicative process easier.) 

  A way to offset overseas production that I've found effective is to work with overseas factories that prioritize working conditions, wages, and a personal commitment to local environmental stability (via donations and fundraising products.) At the end of the day, it's important to discuss these potential issues with your production partner so that you feel you are making the most comfortable choice for your morals and your business! With the new age, many of those factories are striving for better ethics, so take time to discuss with potential partners to find the perfect fit for you! 


How to Find the Best Manufacturer for Your Needs

 Outside of local print shops or local clothing factories, most of my experience is in producing with overseas production partners. Enamel pins, charms, keychains, plush, and bags are just so much more cost effective overseas and I have many production partners I've used for years. We've built a trust and understanding together that has benefited both my creative endeavors and supporting factories I'm fond of. 

  But where do you start if you want to go this route? The most common place to find manufacturers is a website called Alibaba. So what is Alibaba? Alibaba is an online platform that connects manufacturers and wholesalers in China to individuals and businesses around the world looking to create, trade, or resell.   Users can work with factories for their business to create goods to sell. When finding a production partner, you'll want to specifically find a factory that specializes in custom goods. 

  Customization involves offering a variety of designs or details of a product specifically to a your preference and needs. In simple words, customized products are products where you, as the artist, can select the features you want to make. The products are designed to meet your specifications and may differ from those available in the general market based on the designs, colors, font, functionality, logo, size, etc. This is where the uniqueness of your artwork, creativity, and vision come in. 

  You’ll already have an idea of what exactly your product should be able to do. Sizing, functions, main materials, order size - have these prepared beforehand so you can streamline your conversations.

  You have a few ways to search for a production partner; 

 You can also use the search bar at the type of the website to search the type of product you'd like to make- and then filter the search to look at specific verified manufacturers.

Each manufacturer will have pictures of work they've created so you can get an idea of their capabilities and quality. You also want to make sure you find a factory that specifically has customization capabilities. 

You can then view their profile, read reviews, and research which factory may be the best fit for you. Hit the "Chat Now" button to speak to a representative from that specific factory to communicate your idea and work with them directly to create your products! Don't be afraid to shop around for quotes and quality- and be sure to ask for samples of their work as well if you'd like to make a physical assessment if that production partner may be the best fit for you. 


In Conclusion 

 You have that awesome idea, a production partner, and now you're ready to create some fantastic original products! I hope this guide has helped set a solid foundation so that you can go out into the world and begin creating products for your small business! 

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