Can’t find a UK manufacturer? Here’s 5 reasons why

Are you struggling to find a local factory for your products? Make it British receives hundreds of requests for help from people can’t find a UK manufacturer to work with. I’ve found there are usually five reasons why they can’t find a UK manufacturer to make their products. Read on to find out what those reasons are.


Can’t find a UK manufacturer? Make it British receives hundreds of enquires from people who have been searching for a UK manufacturer but are struggling to find one.  That includes everyone from the big brands and retailers who are looking to find more local manufacturers to work with to start-ups looking for manufacturers to make small quantities.

When they contact me asking for help I always like to dig a little bit deeper, to find out why it is that they are struggling.

I start by asking these questions:

  • What type of product are you looking to get made?
  • Is it a product that you’re already making somewhere else and you want to switch manufacturer?
  • Exactly what type of manufacturer are you looking for?
  • Who have you spoken to so far?

The answers to these usually lead to one of five reasons why they can’t find a UK manufacturer to make their products.

1. You have unrealistic expectations on how much it costs to manufacture in the UK

This is often the reason why you can’t find a manufacturer if you are reshoring. Trying to price match with China, India or Portugal is pretty much impossible. But you have to weigh up the benefits of making here versus getting the lower cost price. 

In order to make in the UK, you may need to lower your margins. But that can be offset by many of the other benefits of making here. For example, not having the product delayed sitting at the border when you’re trying to ship it from overseas.

Unrealistic cost price expectations may come from understanding about how long it takes to have your product made. Or being unaware of what the UK living wage is.

Cost price is also dependent on the quantities that you’re making. So if you’re making a small quantity, you’re going to pay more for each unit.

You may be setting your selling price too low. If you are looking for a manufacturer to give you a 60 or 70% margin on a selling price that is too low in the first place, you’re expecting an unrealistic price from a manufacturer.

If you’re expecting an unrealistic cost price, it’s not that you can’t find a UK manufacturer but that you’re not prepared to pay t going to find it very hard to find a manufacturer. And if you do find someone you need to question – why are they so cheap?  

2. You are looking for a manufacturer that can provide a full-service

If you’re used to working with manufacturers overseas, for example in Asia, you may be used to them offering a full service for you. This is when they source your raw materials for you and sort out your production. Whereas the majority of manufacturers in the UK do not offer a full service.

Instead most UK manufacturers offer CMT (cut, make and trim). In other words, you need to source your raw materials, your packaging, your trims, and the factory will just do the production and the making up.

If you’re looking for a UK manufacturer who offers a full service, the chances are the reason not why you’ve not found anyone is because they are very rare.

You may need to go back to the drawing board and think about the different components that go into your product and break that down into the different types of manufacturers you need for each part. You may need to find a number of manufacturers, i.e someone to product a jersey fabric, someone to dye it, and someone to make up your garments.

3. You haven’t got all of your ducks in a row.

When you reach out to a manufacturer you need to make sure you are prepared. As per the above point it will be your responsibility to have you sourced your raw materials, trims and labels.

Do you have your designs in a clear format that the manufacturer can work form? If you’re not giving them clear guidelines they are going to find it difficult to work with you.

If you’re unclear in your request to a manufacturer, or you look like you’re unprepared, they’re going to put you to the bottom of the pile. They’ll move on to the next person who is more organised and is ready to start working with them.

4. You’ve approached the wrong types of manufacturers

This comes down to knowing exactly what it is you want to make. Do you have a good understanding of your product and how it’s made?  You will need to know if your product requires a specialist manufacturer with specialist machinery.

Try and do as much research as possible. Make sure you know how to describe what your product is, what machinery is required to make it, and therefore what type of manufacturer you need.

Most manufacturers in the UK are specialists in what they do that. So they wouldn’t be able to do everything. A garment manufacturer, for instance, might not be able to make every different type of garment.

For example, if you are doing athleisure, you may need a manufacturer with a flatlock machine. This will create a decorative seam on the outside on stretch garments.

Or you might want to get silk made. In this case you need a manufacturer that’s used to working with really fine materials.

You really need to have a clear understanding of exactly what it is you want to make. And if it requires any specialist type of machinery or skills.

You may also be approaching the wrong type of manufacturer if they are set up to make large volume orders but you want to make low quantities or vice versa.

5. You’ve not accounted for how in demand UK manufacturers are right now.

Everyone wants to make locally now and that is only going to increase. There’s a lot of demand for UK manufacturers and not enough supply to keep up with that demand. The manufacturers are all really busy. They’re only going to respond to inquiries that look like they’re going to turn into real business.

If you’re not a well-known name, you need to acknowledge the fact that your inquiry is not going to jump out at them. They will have hundreds of other inquiries that you need to compete with so you need to sell yourself to them.

The best way to do this is sound organised and like you know what you’re doing. Show the manufacturer you know exactly what it is you want to make. And that you know they’re the right manufacturer for you.

You need to know:

  • How to communicate clearly and exactly what it is you want to make.
  • What quantities you want to make.
  • Where you are sourcing your raw materials from.
  • If there is any specialist equipment or skills that a manufacturer needs to have.
  • What your costings are and be realistic about your target cost prices.

If you want to make in the UK you need to be prepared to contact a lot of manufacturers until you find the right one, persistence will definitely pay off. Julie Deane OBE from the Cambridge Satchel Company told me on the Make it British podcast that she phoned tons of bag manufacturers in the UK.  She rang them over and over again until she got them to work with her.

So don’t give up because there is the right manufacturer out there for you in the UK.

If you do need some help getting started, then at Make it British we do have several ways that we can help you find a UK manufacturer. Take a look here to find out how.

 Rather listen to a podcast on this topic? Check out episode 156 of the Make it British Podcast here – 5 reasons why you may not be able to find a UK manufacturer.