Looking to manufacture goods in the UK? Here are our top tips for making it all run smoothly
We get loads of enquiries here at Make it British from businesses looking to launch a product that is made in the UK. Here is some of the advice that we give on how to make sure that the initial development process runs as smoothly as possible…
1. Do your research
Before you contact a manufacturer try and find out a bit about their business. Look on their website for information, and try and ascertain which other customers they produce for. Do they make for other brands similar to yours? Or do they supply large high street retailers who are buying in volume? Finding out this information in advance will save you from calling people that aren’t the right fit for your business.
2. Call, don’t email
UK manufacturers are most likely getting 100’s of enquiries a week, and won’t have time to respond to them all. Therefore your email is very unlikely to stand out amongst the rest. If you pick up the phone and speak to someone you are much more likely to get a response. Plus, if they can’t help you they are more likely going to recommend someone that can than they would if you had only sent them an email.
3. Visit the factory
James Eden, who owns the clothing factory Cooper & Stollbrand in Manchester, told the audience at our Make it British Forum, that if designers could not be bothered to go and visit his factory, then he wouldn’t work with them. But you’d be surprised at how many businesses will try and produce something with a factory, having never even seen the place. One of the advantages of making here is that you are never more than a train journey away from a factory – make the most of it.
4. Ask questions
Have some questions planned in advance to ask the owner of the factory, such as what their minimum order quantities and lead-times are . Also try and find out which other companies they supply to, and for how long – this should give you an indication of their quality level within the market, and also how well they retain their customers. Factories that change customers every season are probably best to be avoided!
5. Don’t expect cost prices on the spot
And certainly don’t expect a manufacturer to give you a cost price based on an initial email (but believe me, a lot of people do this!). Until the manufacturer has a clear understanding of what you want to make, how long it will take them to make it, and how many you are going to order, it is unfair to expect them to give you a price. Besides, if all of your initial conversations are based solely on cost, you’ll give the impression that you are going to be trouble from the start.
6. Be well-organised
There are very few UK manufacturers that are happy to take a sketch from the back of a fag packet and turn it into something amazing. They’re far too busy for that. You will need to supply them with good quality specification drawings, and more often than not you will need to source your own raw materials and packaging. Having all this information from the start will help the whole process run more smoothly, and will save you in sampling and development costs because there is less room for error.
7. Play to a UK manufacturer’s strengths
There are some things that we are great at making here, and others that we aren’t. So bear this in mind and modify your initial plans accordingly if it is important to you that your product is made here. You will find that anything with labour intensive work is bound to cost more in Britain than offshore too. Details such as intricate handwork or garments with beading and complex panelling are going to take a lot of hours to manufacture and bump up your cost price. Consider whether these aspects are essential, and whether your customer is prepared to pay the price for them, rather than trying to battle it out with a manufacturer about their cost.
8. Don’t over-sample
And certainly don’t sample in the UK with the intention of making the bulk order overseas. British manufacturers have had their fingers burnt many times with this, and that is why the majority will ask you to pay for samples (which will usually cost double the production price). Sample making is an expensive process for a manufacturer, and it is only fair that they pass on some of that initial cost to you, after all, they only have your word that you are going to place an order.
9. Consider hiring an expert
If the whole production process completely flummoxes you, then you may find it more cost effective in the long run to hire someone to handle the sampling and production process for you. It will save you money on sampling that isn’t right, and also give the manufacturer the confidence that you are seriously committed to the project.
10. Make a commitment to your supplier
Factories lose money when they have staff and machines sitting around not being used. Having a projection of orders from their customers helps them avoid this. Make a commitment to your UK manufacturer and everyone will benefit in the long run.
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Hello, I'm Kate Hills
I’ve been passionate about UK manufacturing ever since I had my own recycled clothing company and micro-factory in the early '90s! After 20 years as a designer and buyer developing products all over the world, I launched Make it British to support creative small businesses that want to make sustainably and locally.
Over the last ten years, I've helped 1,000s of businesses to work with UK manufacturers. Now it's your turn!