This is a topic I get asked about quite frequently. It's only right that I write about it! There is an immense amount of bad information out there regarding factory samples and what to e on the lookout for. The reality is that this phase of your sourcing journey can take a lot of time and for good reason! You are slowly filtering out the loser factories and finding the one partner for years to come. It's a big deal!
Overwhelming Yet Important
Choosing the right supplier to manufacture your products can feel overwhelming, especially if you have never done it before. It is important to remember however that manufacturing factories deal with the logistics of building and packaging products to the exact specifications of their clients every day. Regardless of how complex or specific your requests are, it is extremely likely that you will be able to find a manufacturer that has dealt with products like yours before and will be ready and able to turn your vision into a finished product that meets your expectations.
But how can you be sure that the product you are being promised will be up to your standards when dealing with manufacturers that may be hundreds or thousands of miles away? The only way to know for sure is through product samples. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the process of ordering and testing product samples before making your final selection on a manufacturer.
Research Suppliers and Narrow Your List Down
Alibaba.com is a fantastic place to start when sourcing a supplier for your product. One of the things that makes Alibaba so useful is the sheer scope of the marketplace. A search for virtually any product that you can imagine will usually yield dozens of supplying options.
Don’t feel like you must use Alibaba though. Sam Boyd wrote an article for the blog earlier this year that included six ways to source without Alibaba. Whether you want to find a supplier closer to home or have an extremely unique product that will require a specific skill-set to produce that Alibaba may not be able to provide, there are plenty of other options available.
And of course, it never hurts to shop around. Perhaps you will want to choose a few suppliers who seem like they could fit the bill from Alibaba as well as some suppliers from other sources. It is important to do your due diligence during the selection process. Can the claims that the manufacturers you are considering make be verified? Is the communication process easy? Do you get the sense that the supplier you are speaking to understands exactly what you are looking for?
It helps to start with a large list of potential suppliers and to work your way down. The more suppliers you talk to, the more you will start to get a feel for which ones feel like the right fit for you and your brand.
Request Product Samples From Your Chosen Suppliers
Once you have done the research and opened communications with the suppliers that you feel might be the right ones for you, it is time to order product samples. This is the stage that will help you to determine which manufacturers are the most legitimate contenders for your business. Try to narrow your selections down to your top 3-5 options before ordering samples so that you have a reasonable number to work with.
Be very clear with your supplier exactly what you are looking for. Giving extremely detailed specifications and plans will give the supplier a better idea of what you need and will make it easier for you to test your samples for quality when they arrive as you will be able to check each sample’s attention to detail.
During this stage, be sure to request custom samples as opposed to generic ones. Even if customized samples cost more money to produce, it is worth investing in samples that will be a more accurate representation of the finished product you are envisioning.
If you are looking for a way to save some money on shipping, consider enlisting the help of a virtual assistant. Instead of having four or five different factories in China send you samples directly and charging you for each of those shipments, you could instead have all of those samples sent to a local virtual assistant that could send the lot of them to you in one box. If you do use a consolidation method like this, just make sure that each sample is clearly labeled so you don’t get confused by which product is from which supplier.
Quality Test Thoroughly
Once you have received your product samples, take the time to thoroughly inspect each of them. Label each one in multiple places so that you can always easily tell which sample came from which supplier.
Product samples don’t have to be perfect; there is still time to communicate with your supplier about adjustments that need to be made. But with three to five physical samples sitting in front of you, chances are that one or two of them are going to stand out for their superior quality and attention to detail. Depending on how complex your product is, differences in quality may range from subtle to severe.
Test the durability of your product samples. How do they hold up with continued use? Are some more easily damaged than others? Try to think of different ways that your consumers might use your product and test it in as many ways as possible. Consider enlisting the help of friends and family members to investigate and test your product samples so that they can weigh in on which ones that they like the best.
Unit Cost Consideration
Price will obviously play a role in your decision process as you will need to keep manufacturing costs low enough to ensure that the product you choose to sell on Amazon is a profitable one. Quality should be the most important aspect of your decision, however. Even if you stand to make less money per unit on a product going with a more highly priced manufacturer, having high quality products will help you build up your brand’s reputation through repeat customers and positive product reviews on Amazon.
One Last Test
After you have made your final selection, contact the supplier you have chosen and let them know if you have any notes for modifications. Order one more small batch before putting in your first big order. This will give you the chance to check the final draft of the product and ensure that your manufacturer’s quality is consistent across multiple units. All of this extra effort put into ordering and analyzing product samples will pay off when you are sending top-notch products to market.