A Summary Story (or Saga) on Finding a Manufacturer

 
Sometimes we've felt like this on our manufacturing journey.  Thanks B.C.

Sometimes we've felt like this on our manufacturing journey.  Thanks B.C.

 

I had a conversation this past week with someone unfamiliar with our project and progress over the last nine months, and it helped me step back from the frustrating details and remember some big-picture milestones.  I'd like to share that conversation with you, which helps summarize one essential segment of this project: Manufacturing.

We successfully funded the Kickstarter campaign with the support of all of our generous backers in February of this year. At the time we had a manufacturer lined up, as we had taken the time prior to the Kickstarter launch to find one we could work with.  That process is no easy task; the factory took us over 3 months to find. 

A factory that is a good match for this kind of project is not easy to locate; here's why:

  • First, our products are extremely unique, so there isn't an established industry standard manufacturing process for them. If we were out to make another tyvek wallet or iphone dock (or a multi-piece straight handled bar spoon), we could find a dozen factories that have made these items before, and are familiar with the process.  When you propose a product that hasn't been made using a specific manufacturing process, many factories aren't up for the challenge of problem solving and figuring out a new way of doing things.
  • Second, we're a really really little fish in a huge manufacturing economy. Typically factories like to see orders in the tens-of-thousands range.  If you can place an order for a hundred thousand units, you command a LOT of attention.  Things happen faster, there's more competition among factories, and it's a lot cheaper per unit. Because we didn't raise $50,000 or $150,000, we're placing the order we can afford, which is smaller and more difficult to market to factories. 
  • Third, the value of our spoons come from the quality and integrity with which they will be manufactured. Because we're unwilling to compromise on essential components such as a single-piece transition from the spoon bowl to the handle, our list of available factory options shrinks dramatically, because many simply don't do this type of work.  For the ones that do, quality and workmanship is another consideration that eliminates factories which value things like price, time, speed, and efficiency above the quality of the end product.

When we did locate our first factory, we felt comfortable launching our Kickstarter. We had some delays early in the year due to Chinese New Year and other national holidays, and received our first samples in June.  It was clear from the samples that they did not fully understand the design elements that were important to the products, even though they had created what looked like single-piece spoons.  We took the time to create 3D printed samples of the spoons, as it would be easier and more accurate to communicate our design expectations with physical models rather than digital measurements which require translation and text qualifiers. 

In early September the factory finally got back to us and informed us that they could not produce the spoons we designed.  We learned that even though the samples they sent were finished to look like one piece, they were in fact a composite construction.  The method they were using would not allow for many of the design considerations we requested.

This was devastating news for us, as we were already behind schedule.  Whatever semblance of a manufacturing schedule we had left was ruined.  What could we do but inform our backers, and keep moving forward? 

Thus began our second factory-finding phase.

We went through several candidates who seemed promising, but when it came time to get serious and place a purchase order, some of the details wouldn't match up, or our quantities wouldn't be high enough, or our broker had some concerns about some of the promises that were being made.  Unfortunately, we have to continue to go through the long process of exploring manufacturing competencies, communicating the plans of our products, getting feedback, considering compromises, and getting quotes from each factory until one works out in the end.  We run into a lot of dead ends, and it takes time.

That it only took us 2 months to find our second factory is good news.

As of this week, we've contracted with a factory, placed a purchase order, and are having production samples made!  Read more in today's Kickstarter Update for factory details and what's next.