12 Questions to ask a UK manufacturer
So you want to get something made in the UK? Even if you have the experience of developing a product before you might not have visited a manufacturer.
Choosing a manufacturer is one of the most important decisions you can make in the development of a product, so it’s not something to enter into without a bit of due care and attention.
I always say that it is worth speaking to as many manufacturers as you can over the phone first, and then go and visit two or three to get a feel for the sort of operation they run.
Some of these questions you may want to ask over the phone initially, in order to narrow down your choice, but others, such as those about price, are best approached in a face to face situation.
Here are my top ten tips for questions to ask when you visit a factory for the first time:
1. What is your minimum order quantity?
This can vary depending on the product, but is one of the key questions to ask a manufacturer from the start. There’s no point going to see a supplier who won’t set up a production line for less than a 2,000 piece order, if you only want to order 20 pieces.
Manufacturers usually have minimum orders to make their production efficient and to avoid the costly stop-starting of machines. Some may bend on their minimums, but this will more than likely command a higher production price in order to make it worth their while.
At this stage it is probably also worth finding out what their price breaks are too. Often, if you just order a few more it will help lower the cost price. So consider whether you are spreading your order across too many low quantity options and if you could consolidate some styles and order more of the key items within the range.
2. Who else do you manufacture for?
This is one of the first questions that I would ask. It gives you an idea of the level that the manufacturer is operating at and the type of businesses that they are used to dealing with. If they start complaining about their other customers though – run a mile. That could be you in 6 months time!
It would also be wise to contact one or two of their previous clients to get a reference…or speak to me and I’ll let you know what feedback I’ve heard.
3. What are your lead-times?
The time it takes from when you confirm an order and deliver all your raw materials to the factory, to when the order is ready to be shipped. This can vary from product to product. Different times of the year can effect lead-times too.
It is important to know this information and to take it into consideration when you are placing an order. Just because your 500 pieces will only take the factory a week to manufacture does not mean that they will be ready a week after you place the order.
A good factory will plan production weeks and even months in advance in order to keep their workforce busy and not have any down-time. You need to allow for this in your own critical path planning.
I would also allow an extra couple of weeks as contingency too.
4. What is the cost for prototyping and sampling?
I don’t know many manufacturers that don’t charge a premium for the time spent making a sample.
Generally the rate is at least double what the production costs will be. Some factories will charge an hourly rate for development time and others will charge a flat fee.
Ask the question early on so that you can factor the development charges into your budget.
5. What are your payment terms?
UK manufacturers need good cashflow, just like any other business, so they’ll be keen for you to pay within a fixed time frame. Some manufacturers may ask you to pay a deposit upfront, especially if they haven’t worked with you before. And many will require payment before they ship the goods.
I’d always recommend going to see the final production before it is shipped so that you know what you are paying for is what you expected. After all, being able to do this at this stage is one of the advantages of working with a UK manufacturer.
6. How many x can you produce a week?
If you need to order 5000 pieces of something and the factory can only produce 50 a week, it is going to take them a very long time to make your order. Consider how much you can grow with a factory as your orders get bigger, or whether you might outgrow them too fast.
7. Will you sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement)?
The jury is out as to whether an NDA is worth the paper it is written on, in my opinion. I’ve been to factories where they say they have an NDA with a well known designer, and then proceed to show you their next season collection!
I think the main thing here is trust. When you meet this manufacturer do they show you all the exclusive work they are doing for other clients, or do they keep it under wraps?
8. What audits or industry certifications does your factory comply to?
An audit is an assessment that is carried out to ascertain a factory’s quality systems and workplace environment. It costs a manufacturer money to have an audit carried out, so some smaller manufacturers may not have had one. But it’s worth asking the question, and if they haven’t had any audits then it is worth finding out the reason why.
9. Can I see the factory floor or workroom?
It is so important to see where the magic happens. This is the true indicator of how the manufacturer runs their business.
Is it neat and tidy? Are there organised compartments for things? Do the staff look happy? or harassed? What are they currently working on and what does the quality look like?
10. What sort of quality control do you have in place?
Whilst you go round the factory this is your chance to find out what quality controls they have in place.
At what stages of the production is the quality checked? Do they have a gold seal sample to refer to as they go along? Is there some sort of final inspection process that takes place before the product is shipped out? What is the lighting like in this area? and does it look well-staffed?
Quality inspection is particularly important in factories making products for children and babies, where something like a broken needle being left in a garment could be a life-threatening situation.
11. What types of machinery do you have?
Different equipment has different capabilities and it is worth finding out what the factory can do with the machinery it has. There may be something that they are capable of that you haven’t considered but which could drastically improve the production of your product. It may also give you ideas for future development work.
I actually think this is one of the great benefits of visiting a manufacturer – because it gives you product development ideas you might never have dreamed of before.
12. Who would be managing my account?
You know the score. You go to a business and they put the best sales person in charge of the customer on-boarding. You’re really impressed and decide to give them your order. They then put the junior in charge of your account and everything starts to go a bit skew-whiff!
If you are impressed by the owner when he shows you around then insist that it is him that you communicate with going forward.
I hope that you have found the above helpful. If you think we’ve missed anything out then I would love to hear from you in the comments below.