Got Manufacturing Issues? Read This!
When it comes to getting products made, sometimes things go wrong. It’s a fact. The trick is to know how to handle it and put it right.
When I worked as a fashion buyer, a big part of my job was product development. You probably think that sounds like fun – flying around the world, creating beautiful products – and it was. But that was only 20% of the job. The other 80% of my time was problem-solving any issues that would inevitably arise.
Because no matter how experienced the buyer and how amazing the factory, there were nearly always problems that cropped up at some stage in the development process that needed to be solved.
Sometimes it was something simple, like the fact that a detail had been left off a tech pack, which the factory had spotted. A quick email to confirm the details and sampling could continue.
Other times it was more tricky, like a fabric failing a color-fastness test. In that case, a decision had to be made as to whether to choose a new color or find a new fabric. Or a weak stitching point on a sample that resulted in a bag handle coming off if you gave it a tug.
But the worst problems were always those that weren’t spotted until after production had been finished and the order shipped. In the case of the big retailers that I worked for, whose orders were often in the thousands of units, these errors were potentially extremely costly. So determining who was liable was a major exercise in detective work and negotiation.
In the latter part of my corporate career, nearly all of the factories we used were on the other side of the world. So issues had to be solved with an endless thread of emails, which was time-consuming and frustrating. It definitely took the fun out of the role at times.
One of the advantages of manufacturing locally is definitely that a lot fewer errors occur because you can visit a factory and have these conversations face to face. But still, manufacturing issues do arise.
So here are my top tips for how to solve manufacturing issues amicably and easily…
✓ DO meet the manufacturer face-to-face to talk through your issues
You have a much better chance of a successful outcome for both parties if you meet in person. Showing them where the problem lies is much easier than trying to describe it over the phone or via email. Working with a factory is a partnership. Sending them shouty emails is akin to dumping a boyfriend via text!
✓ DO remember it is a business transaction and don’t take it personally
While manufacturing issues can be frustrating, it’s important to remember that they are simply a part of running a business. Avoid taking things personally and approach the situation with a calm and professional attitude. The manufacturer is not out to get you, so don’t get upset about it or lose your head. Nine times out of ten the problem can be solved with an amicable discussion.
✓ DO listen to what the manufacturer has to say
Understand how the problem has occurred from their side as well as your own, and listen carefully to the manufacturer’s perspective. It’s natural to want to blame them for everything because you’re disappointed, but there may also be something that you could have done to prevent it from happening. Knowing what caused the issues will help to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
✓ DO try and reach a conclusion that works for both parties
Try to resolve the situation so that neither you, nor the manufacturer feels like you’ve lost out. For instance, negotiating a discount on faulty goods, or agreeing a reasonable timeframe for the work to be put right, rather than demanding they remake everything or refund you in full. Strive for a win-win situation that preserves your business relationship and leaves you on good terms.
✓ DO reflect on your communication and learn from the experience
Could you have done things differently to avoid the issue happening? Was your communication on the order always 100% clear? Or was something left open to interpretation? Maybe you cut a corner or skipped a step in order to meet a deadline, and in doing so forced the manufacturer into a difficult position. No one works at their best when they’re under pressure.
✗ DON’T panic!
It’s natural to panic when things go wrong, but doing so won’t help the situation. Remember that nine times out of ten mistakes can be sorted out by discussing the issue in a friendly fashion. Stay calm, focus on finding a solution, and maintain and smile 🙂
✗ DON’T start looking for another manufacturer
Resist the urge to jump ship and search for a new manufacturer immediately. Hear what the original one has to say first. You might end up just repeating the same mistakes with a new factory – and take it from me, the grass is not always greener!
✗ DON’T bad-mouth the manufacturer
No matter how frustrated you may feel, avoid bad-mouthing the manufacturer to peers or on social media! This will always come back to bite you. The UK manufacturing industry is small and many manufacturers and suppliers know each other. You may find that another factory won’t take you on if they think you might be difficult or unprofessional to work with, even if the situation was not your fault.
Manufacturing issues are just a part of developing products. They happen to everyone at some point, no matter how much experience you have. The trick is knowing how to handle them, and not turning the whole thing into a stressful blame-game. Whilst dealing with problems in production can be a trying experience, it doesn’t have to result in strained relationships or recurring issues.
By following these dos and don’ts when working with a manufacturer, you can approach challenges with a level-headed perspective, maintain professionalism, and resolve your issues in an amicable way.