EPISODE NOTES

You can read the entire blog post here.

Can I source products myself?

Absolutely! It just takes time, patience and a clear idea of what you’re looking for.

Do I need to source from China, or somewhere else overseas?

My honest answer is maybe. (Sorry!) It’ll really depend on your product.

Manufacturing costs can be lower overseas – but shipping will be higher, and you’ll have to pay customs fees, which may offset any cost savings.  

There’s definitely an appeal with products ‘made in the UK’. (I’ll bet you sometimes see that on packaging?) However not all products are made here, so you may have no option but to source from abroad.

I really can’t tell you what’s best for you, without knowing what you’re looking for, but I can tell you that I’ve successfully sourced products from the UK, USA, China, Turkey, Portugal and India. All are possible!  

What do I need before I start contacting suppliers?

You need a really clear product specification, with as much detail about the product you’re looking for as provide

If you have images (either of your own idea, or of similar products that you’ve seen elsewhere) you can include these too.

It’s important to be really clear before you start looking, as you’ll get asked plenty of questions and this way you can be prepared for them!

How do I find a supplier?

There are plenty of sites where you can find thousands of manufacturers in one place, search for the product you’re looking for, compare suppliers and get in touch with them.

How do I stay safe?

There are definitely ways to verify suppliers. Much of this can be done online, or if you’re looking at a UK manufacturer you can usually visit them in person. 

How will I know if the quality is any good?

Most suppliers will happily produce a sample for you (which you may need to pay for). Personally, I’d avoid any that don’t, as it’s important to see what you’re potentially going to be paying for.

I recommend ordering 2 or 3 samples in total, so you can compare quality. 

It can also be good to compare next to competitor’s products if you can (perhaps by buying one to use as a benchmark). This is a great way to compare like-for-like, as you can’t assess everything using a photo.

Who handles shipping if I do decide to source from overseas?

You’ll need to arrange your own shipping in most cases, but it may well be that your supplier can help you with this. This post covers the basics.

USEFUL RESOURCES

Episode 12 – How to write a product specification

Blog post – Do I need to find an overseas manufacturer to make my product?

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Transcript

How to find a supplier to create your product

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Welcome to the Bring Your Product Ideas to Life podcast, practical advice and inspiration to help you create and sell your own physical products. He is your host Vicki Weinberg.

Vicki (:

Hi, thanks for listening today. I am recording this on a very rainy Sunday in June is not really the gene or whatever you'd expect, but nevermind so far, first day here in the UK, which is pretty exciting by the time you listen to this, it will be at least a few weeks in the future, maybe months or years, who knows how long this will, if I'm for it. But yeah, and that's where I am. Today say today, I wanted to talk to you about finding a supplier to create your products. So, so far more on this podcast, if you've listened to the previous episodes, we've talked a lot about how to come up with ideas, how to validate your ideas and how to sort of get everything ready to start finding someone to source your product.

Vicki (:

So I'll start by saying this episode is going to be useful for you. If you are looking for somebody other than yourself, to manufacture your products. Obviously if you are a creator, a maker, and you're going to be great in your products, visit, you know, physically creating them yourself, you might find this episode is useful, but who knows you, you hopefully you will be able to get something from it. So I'm going to go sort of go through, I guess, the main questions I get asked by people when they're looking at, to source a product and hopefully we'll be covering all of the questions that you have on the topic. But if not, as always, you can get in touch with me, its Vicki@tinychipmunk.com. And let me know if there's anything you wanted to know that I haven't indeed included.

Vicki (:

I'm going to start with one of the first questions people ask me when we talk about sourcing products, which is, do I need to source my products from China or perhaps anywhere else overseas. And I'll be honest with you maybe, but maybe not. And it really will depend on the products that you're looking for as to where the best place to source it is. And there was a lot to consider. So, so when you saw this overseas, whether that's China or somewhere else, so I'm basically thinking of most countries with the exception of the U S and the UK manufacturing costs can not always can be lower, but then often shipping will well shipping definitely where we'll be higher and you had to pay customs fees.

Vicki (:

So that might offset any of the cost savings you get from sourcing your products abroad. There's also an, a peer with products that are made in the UK or the USA, depending on where you, or listen to this from a bet. You sometimes see it on packaging, don't you or one product listings. However, so yeah, there is an advantage things make in your own country. However, not all products are made, it will be made in your country. So might have no options to source from our board. So using My products as an example, the bamboo products that I sell, you know, they're just not made in the UK. So at the moment I have sores mine from China. So I'm actually looking now to move my production to Turkey.

Vicki (:

That's something that I'm sort of actively working on now, but I can not find a supplier in the UK who makes exactly what I need so that it just isn't an option. And that may be the case for you. It may be not. It's one of these things wear without knowing exactly what you are looking for. I can't tell you where you need to source

it. However, I can tell you that I've successfully source products from the UK, the USA China Turkey, Portugal, India, and all the possible. And hopefully once you've listened to the rest of this podcast and I've addressed some of your other concerns you might be having, you'll be feeling a lot more confidence about that. And I guess I should probably add that.

Vicki (:

I know that right now. And so as I recorded this, we're still in the midst of COVID-19 that this is a bit, you know, where products are sourced wrong is possibly a bigger concern than ever. I know that I've seen myself lead time, a slightly longer, and I've had an anxiety that it's harder to, you know, get suppliers to perhaps respond at the moment. And maybe they're not as interested in some of the smuggler orders. I've actually had a real example with a client recently where she was looking for a very small initial production run that, and we just couldn't find a manufacturer in China that was happy to do a run in that small.

Vicki (:

They just, nobody was interested in the reason for that. I'm not sure, but I've had this some other people as well. And so I think because of that, perhaps our people are looking to source their products in different places or perhaps you are a team. So I have a detailed Blog post. I will link to in the show notes, we have a full breakdown of all the pros and cons of sourcing products in your own country and sourcing from abroad. And that might help you to decide what's best for you. Because if I say, I can't give you a definitive answer now, because I don't know what exactly you're looking for. And I've also decided that since this is quite a big topic, there will also be an episode coming up, which would just be about where to source your products and the pros and cons of sourcing in your own country versus sourcing abroad.

Vicki (:

And we can talk about this in a lot more details. So that will be coming up in a few weeks. So listen out for that. So what do you need, do you know how to source your products and what do you need to have? Well, the first thing, and we've touched on this on other episodes is having a clear, brief product specification. That is so important. I don't know if I know I've said this a lot of times, if you, you know, if you listen to previous episodes, you would have heard me say that. I think that you need to have a really clear idea of what you're looking for before you go out and start trying to source it because for a few reasons, do you know, unless you know what you want, you won't know if you're getting it, which sounds really obvious, but it's, but it's true.

Vicki (:

Plus if you want to compare, like for like, so when you, when you do start looking for a supplier, I always suggest you contact as many as possible. Generally, this might sound crazy, but I tend to contact somewhere between 15 and 20 or so. That's how many I tend to send my product specification out to which I know you might see him a ridiculously high number two. You the reason being is that they will be a percentage of that is that won't even apply to you. They'll also be a number who can't meet your brief. And actually I find that if I contact say 20 suppliers, sometimes there are maybe five or less that can actually meet my exact specification and give me all of the information back that I need.

Vicki (:

And you want to be comparing like, you know, you want to be comparing like for like, so that's important. So you want to be sure that our team, so, you know, perhaps you contact this a 15 suppliers, 20 might sound scary or you contact 15 and you end up with five, who can, who come back with it, give you a quote and they give you all the information that you need, what you want to make sure it is when you're looking at those five and you are comparing the price is in the production time and everything else that you're looking at the exact same products. And unless you've given them a really clear spec and the supplier knows exactly what it is, they're quoting you for you, you know, you might not be comparing like for like, you know, for example, if somebody is quoting you for 500 units, their price may well be different for someone who's creating a new for free a hundred units or a thousand Jean is a shipping terms that are important as well.

Vicki (:

We've touched on this in previous episodes and I've got lots of blog posts on this as well, but the shipping costs will vary depending on the terms that you use. So that's something else where I'm looking at something else that you all need to consider. You might want to go back to their product specification EPISODE to have another listen to that, just to make sure that you've got everything you need before you even start thinking about looking for suppliers and contacting them. Okay. So how do you actually find suppliers? Well, if you are searching, if you are looking at, in China, my preferred site is Alibaba, which you may have heard of is that actually I personally think it's a really good site.

Vicki (:

It's got better over the years that I've been using it. It seems to be a lot more, you know, verification of suppliers. Now you could actually pay directly on the site without having to go elsewhere. There's yes, there is protection built in for the buyer and there's a lot of suppliers on there. The one downside, I will say that until you actually start contacting suppliers, I'm sure that is something I've had before as well, until we start contacting in suppliers is the price that you get when you type your product in CID, Barba search bar, and then you'd get all these results. When you scroll down, these prices are all going to be accurate. So just, you know, something to let you know now until you actually start properly sitting down and looking for a supplier that you know what, the results you get an Alibaba, they just, you know, they're just not accurate.

Vicki (:

So just bear that in mind. And as I say, you don't necessarily have to use it look a broad. So if you are looking for products in the USA, I use a site called ThomasNet And in the UK. I use a site called Esources and there's a lot to be said for Google searches to it. If you're all set, if you are looking in a, if you're not looking at in China. So if you are looking in a way in a different country, whether it's your own country or you're looking at a Turkey or Portugal, somewhere in Europe, there's a lot to be said for Google searches, you can Google the name or you can Google the products you're looking for and supplier and the, and the country you're looking for. And you'll get loads of results.

Vicki (:

Obviously, when you're not going through a platform, it's a bit harder to sort of verify these companies. You take a few extra steps and that leads me onto the next thing I wanted to talk to you about which, which is how do you stay safe? Because I know that sending any amount of money, anywhere in the world for, to someone you don't know who perhaps haven't spoken to him in person for a product that you haven't yet seen is pretty scary. And you know, there are scare stories around, you might have had some yourself. And this was actually my biggest fear after placing my order. So despite feeling that I had done everything I can to verify that my supply was legitimate. I have a big delay at costumes and my older was really late to arrive.

Vicki (:

And it was absolutely terrified that he wouldn't turn up and that I had been scammed. And yeah. You know, you can spiral a little bit sometimes can't you or I certainly can, but of course my Product did turn up at the time I'd taken to validate my supplier paid off. We've now had really long-term relationship. This is my very first supplier. They've been fantastic. Yeah. And I, and I, you know, I can't complain, however, every time I

think you will, certainly for me, every time I place an order, I still feel a little bit of nerves because it's a, it's a big thing sort of putting down any money for some thing it's. Yeah. Is I think it it's a big thing and it's, I still find a little bit of uneasy every, every time uneasy may not be the right word, but you know, is it still, you've got to be confident in what you're doing.

Vicki (:

I would say to, to feel entirely comfortable doing it. And there are definitely ways to verify suppliers. So most of these can be done online. Or if you are looking at a manufacturer based on your own country, you can usually visit them in person, possibly not now, as I said, well, I'm a chord in this way or in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, you know, just turning off and visiting a manufacturer, possibly isn't an option right now. But you know, hopefully the situation will change that something, you will be able to do it if you are a source in your products and mobile. And then some of the bigger platforms have their own set of systems in place to verify the suppliers on there.

Vicki (:

And you can also pay for an inspection of this, put you on your mind at rest. So there were companies, but you can pay that. We'll go. And then we'll go and look at Your the supplier you've chosen, depending on what

stage your contact them. They can have a go and look at it, the supply and confirm they're just met. You know, there were a real place, a real operation that they're treating people properly that, you know, everything's, as it should be. So you can get, people's look at that. Or you can also get them to go in a bit later when your product's actually introduced and confirm that your product has been created based your specification and everything is good for him. So that's, this is an option. If it puts you on the health and safety, put your mind at rest, if you're searching on Alibaba, which I will mention, because I know it's one of the biggest platforms and one that a lot of people go to say, if, if there's a few things that I always looked for, which might help you say I as well as obviously the obvious thing is when you looking for suppliers is that obviously you are looking for people who can make your product.

Vicki (:

So you would be searching for people who make the kind of product you're looking for. It may not be obvious from the pictures or the description, wherever they can meet your exact needs. And that's where that, you know, your product specification and the communication you send to them comes in because that's where you're going to find out that. So you'd at least check that they look like they can provide what you want, but then if you have other things, you can have a look at. So on Alibaba specifically, you can look for gold suppliers. So people surprised to have to pay, to be a gold supplier on that platform. That doesn't necessarily mean they are. Well, we should, if it does mean that if there's more chance of them being a legitimate company, because obviously there are of having to put down some money to do that.

Vicki (:

It doesn't opposite me in the quality's going to be good or anything like that. You can't, you know, you can't by that, but it's one thing to look at it. You can also look for suppliers or for a trade assurance. So this basically means that you, as the buyer get protection, if something goes wrong for your order, for example, if the quality isn't as you specified, or if it arrives late, this is for me, this is an important one. And I personally only deal with suppliers who offer trade assurance, because I feel that if they're willing to give you some kind of guarantee, they must be pretty confident in their quality and I've never had to use it. But I like the idea of, you know, knowing its there. I also looked at the number of amount of time a supplier has been trading.

Vicki (:

And if they've been trading for at least five years, let's say, you know, chances are they're doing okay because there sit in business. I also looked at that level of transactions. So you can see the amount of sales they've made in dollars it's in the way is in us dollars for the past six months or so. You know, if they haven't made that many sales, that that might be a question for you and you can also look at reviews. This is something that Alibaba has added fairly recently. It wasn't there when I first started using a platform four years ago. And, and that doesn't mean that not all suppliers have reviews and some have very few reviews because I don't know how you know, go about it.

Vicki (:

Even at, you know, I've never actually been asked by anyone I've worked for in the platform to leave or review. I'm sure there is the way I can do it perhaps is not very well known to us. I mean, I wouldn't be put off if somebody doesn't have reviews, but where they do, it's really useful just to read through and see what other people like yourself are saying about them. So other things you can do to sort of verify the supply you'll be working with is as you can, but first very simple thing is you can Google them and see if they've got their own website. See if they come up in any forums or George or chat rooms or any of these chat rooms makes me sound really old, doesn't it? But you know what I mean, has someone been speaking about them somewhere?

Vicki (:

Have they had something positive to say something negative to say, if you are looking at as a player with Alibaba, you could also look for them or AliExpress. AliExpress is another site. It's more for consumer. So it's where you will buy might go. So if we were looking to buy something personally, rather than looking to buy a sort of a custom design Product and so if this is a supplier has an alley express store or they may well have review's over there as well. So, so that will give you an idea of their quality 'cause. You can look at the views on there, Allie expressed, or you could also look for their products on Amazon. Say for example, you might see when you look at suppliers, product catalog, sometimes the products in their catalog you'll have a brand name on them.

Vicki (:

And if so you can go into Amazon, you can look atamazon.com.co.uk and see if you can find the product with the name, you know, showing up in their catalog anyway on Amazon. And then you could take a look at the reviews and if you want the samples, which we're going to talk about next, and you end up receiving a sample, we have another company's name on them. Again, you can look these products up and see what the reviews were like. So what I mean by that is when you order samples, if you order a generic product sample, rather than a something custom made, I do recommend that you all the custom made ones by the way. And I'll talk about why in a minute, but sometimes suppliers' will also send you the source of something they've made for someone else just to show you what the quality is like and what they're capable of.

Vicki (:

And if you have that sample and it's got, you know, a brand name on it, that's actually a really good because you can then see if you can find that product selling anywhere else and see what people are saying about it. And I'm hopefully that will help you flag up any issues. So those are just a few of the things you can do to stay safe when you're sourcing a product wherever you're sourcing it from. But I think it's something that really say hear is that there's a lot to be said for trusting your gut. If you feel that something isn't right. It possibly isn't. If you're feeling uneasy about a person or a company and I just go with it because there will be someone out there who can create, what is it, what you want to create.

Vicki (:

You don't necessarily have to go with the first person or company that you find. If something doesn't feel right. My best advice would be to either do more digging, do more verification until you, you know, you, do you feel happy or just walk away? Okay. So now we want to talk a bit, a little bit of samples because another question that you might have is, well, how will I know if the supplier can produce good quality product? Because obviously everyone's going to say that the Can, how do I know? You know, how do I actually know that? So as I say, most suppliers will happily produce the sample for you. You may need to pay for it. You might need to just pay the shipping costs, but they should be happily put a sample in the paste view.

Vicki (:

Personally, I would avoid working with any one that doesn't is it's important to see what you're potentially going to be paid for. And I always recommend, or doing at least two or three samples in total. So you can really compare the quality. As I mentioned before, you might want, depending on when your product you can avoid or a stock samples. So this is something that you've already got sitting in their warehouse, or you might need a custom sample made in terms of which is best. It is to be honest, if it really depends on the products and I have always gone for custom samples simply because it's men that I had then had a product that I can use for things like taking the photographs, you know, to get that ready for listing online.

Vicki (:

And I've been able to do that using my sample while my actual product was, you know, the, the big production was going on. So while it was actually being made and another advantage as you can see, you know, you can, we can really see that your supplier has understood what you've asked of them. So they've understood what you said in your product specification. So an example here is for one of my muscle ends, I knew what size, so I wanted the designs to be, I've got a few samples and one of them, the patterns had been printed far too big, like a much larger than I'd envisaged. And it was really good that I pick that up on the sample stage. Ultimately, I didn't go with that supplier, but had I, you know, had they been my first choice at that time, it would have been really good to know that, you know, they hadn't quite understood what I was asking for Before I had ordered hundreds of them.

Vicki (:

I also think it can be good to compare your samples next to your competitors products. If he can say it perhaps by buying a competing or a similar product of yours, that you can use it as a benchmark. And that is a great way to compare, like for like 'cause, if it's your first time sourcing in a particular product, you know, you may not know what good quality looks like and potentially, and if you are not sure, find a product similar to yours, that's considered to be of good quality and then you'll have something that you can directly compare. Your your samples two. And then the final thing, I guess I want to talk about is a question of whether you can source products yourself, because I know that sometimes people can feel a bit daunted by the sourcing process, particularly if it's something that you've never done before.

Vicki (:

And I just want to say, yeah, the absolutely Can it takes a little bit of time. I'm, I'm going to be honest with you because you need to make sure that you're, you spoke to spend in a bit of time looking for the, you know, suppliers that meet your brief and also that you've checked them out and they seem legitimate. You know, you want to spend a little bit of time, first of all, looking for suppliers, you know, that's not something that you're going to do in five minutes. You're going to want to spend some time looking for people that you believe can meet your brief. You would also be having some correspondence with them. So there's likely to be a bit of back and forth. And depending on whereabouts your sourcing, there may be a time difference, which all, you know, as a bit of time on to that.

Vicki (:

And then of course you want to be verifying the suppliers at some stage, wherever your doing this initially, or wherever you're going to wait until you've got a short list, then you're going to, you know, do some research and check them all out, but you are going to want to do that. So, you know, this does take time. So you're also going to need a little bit of patience, because as I say, you might find that there is a little bit of a back and forth. You, you might find that, you know, when you're contacting 15 suppliers, say some of them aren't getting back to you or they're waiting days to get back to you. You will get replies. Some people who don't actually answer it any further questions you asked them and they just send you a catalog. And obviously, you know, you need to think about whether these are people that you want to work with long time.

Vicki (:

And as I mentioned, right, at the beginning, you need a really clear idea of what you're looking for, but you can see assuming that you have all of that, which I am absolutely certain that you do. You can sort the products yourself. If you need a little bit of help with this, I go into lots of detail on sourcing products. In my course, it's called launch it. And it is designed to take you through the process of coming up with your initial product idea right through to the product is actually a rise you bring with you and you know, you're ready to sell it. So in that course, we go into lots of detail around how to find suppliers in the first place, how to start narrowing them down.

Vicki (:

Once you get responses, how to keep track of everything, how to compare, how to go order, order, and review some holes. And then how to go to sort of go through the conversation about placing your final order with them. So if that's something you're interested in, I will put a link in the show notes, depending on when you are listening to this podcast or the course may or may not be open for registration. If it's not a pen at the, you know, at the time he look, you can always put your name in a waiting list, you'll get notified when it does open or, or of course, if you'd like to know when that will be, you can always contact me. So it's, Vicki@tinychipmunk.com. I really hope you found this episode useful.

Vicki (:

I know we've touched on this fairly lightly, but I'm, it's quite hard. It is, you know, so it was a massive

subjects. And if we go into it in lots of detail, we'll be here for a very long time. As I say, you can get a lot more of in the course. And then I also have a blog post that covers this as well. So if you've been listening to this while you've been

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Running or walking or in the gym or

Vicki (:

Driving or whatever, that when you have kids around, then you can always take a look at a blog post just to refresh your memory. And I'll put some links there for other information that you might find it useful. So yeah, I really hope this helps if it has done it, please do consider rating and review in the podcast is really helpful. Leaving a rating just means clicking few stars in Apple podcasts. It literally takes seconds. And it, yeah, it really helps me out. So if you wouldn't mind, that would be fantastic. Okay. This is, thank you so much and speak to you soon.