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by Edie Tolchin
Finding a good, reliable Chinese manufacturer can be intimidating for a first time inventor. Listed below is everything you need to know to find a good manufacturer, but many inventors still look for help to import their first product. An international trade consultant will know all of the ins and outs of locating and working with an overseas manufacturer.
Creating a List of Potential Manufacturers: To find a good manufacturer, go to one or all of the websites listed on the right.
- www.chinasources.com – (www.globalsources.com)
Start by entering the type of product you want manufactured and the country from where you want to purchase it. This can difficult for new inventions if they create a new product category, since the existing search options will not help you. So, you should find a general category that your invention may fit into – for example, hats, radios, toys, tablecloths, brooms, and so on. That should help you locate manufacturers of products similar to your invention.
Another way to develop a list of potential manufacturers is to network with other inventors who have inventions similar to yours. If they have manufactured overseas, ask about their experience with their manufacturer.
Making Initial Contact: After you have created a good list of potential manufacturers, contact them and ask for references of American firms with whom they have worked with. If they are concerned with confidentiality, ask for some brand names they manufacture, that you might recognize in US stores.
When they respond, assess their ease in communication, their mastery of the English language, and their promptness in replying. If they take a week to reply to an initial e-mail, that will usually be an indication that they will not be very good at getting back to you, and this could delay the development of your product.
Many Asian suppliers will claim (sometimes for their convenience – they can’t be bothered, they’re too busy) that they do not want to violate confidentiality. But if they are working with big USA companies (Walmart, Home Depot, etc.), then you most definitely want to know this! This is a good thing. A sign of a capable, confident source is if they volunteer the names of recognizable USA companies they have manufactured for. Besides, just by giving a business partner’s name, it does not reveal any product details.
If they do not want to give you the names of USA buyers, then be persistent and ask them for some USA brand names (i.e., Disney, Liz Claiborne, America’s Pride) of products that you might recognize in retail shops. This obviously does not create a confidentiality issue because the products are already out there!
If they cannot give you either references and/or USA brand names, don’t waste your time dealing with them. Go with someone who has a proven track record.
Upon receiving a list of references, contact them and ask how their experience was with the manufacturer. If other companies have had bad experiences, chances are you will too.
Asking for Quotes: After contacting the references that the manufacturers have provided, hopefully you will have narrowed down your list to at least five good prospects. Put together a package to send to each of those manufacturers that includes samples of your prototype, along with all product literature, specifications, measurements, components, etc. Many sources can work with drawings, but it is more efficient to use actual prototypes, as mentioned in Chapter 2. Also include any safety issues you will want addressed, taken from your Design Evaluation report from the independent testing / safety lab, and any production tests that they must comply with, also from the Design Evaluation. Have vital vital information translated into Chinese.
Make sure to include an introduction letter, indicating the quantity you are looking to buy, the ports into which you would like to ship your order, and any special features of your product that need to be included, which might not be obvious to the supplier when they first look at your prototype.
Give as much info as possible – communication can be difficult and the more information you give the more likely your product will turn out right.
Finding an International Trade Consultant: If at this point you are feeling overwhelmed, you may want to hire an international trade consultant. To find one, read the classified ads in Inventors’ Digest magazine, whether via hard copy or online at www.inventorsdigest.com. Look under their Classifieds. You can also contact the United Inventors Association: www.uiausa.org, or look under “Inventor-Friendly Companies” or “Find A Certified Pro” at the website.
There are also a few important trade organizations to consider: First, the Federation of International Trade Associations (www.fita.org) is a good place to start. And, you may contact the National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America, Inc. at: www.ncbfaa.org. Although you may not need a Customs Broker or Freight Forwarder immediately, many customs brokerage firms employ international trade consultants or may be able to recommend one.
Last, if your invention is a textile or sewn item, bag, baby accessory, arts & crafts product, small household invention or fashion item, you may contact me, Edie Tolchin, at EGT@warwick.net.
Finding a Manufacturer
Brian Donnelly was an industrial design professor at San Francisco State University when he started designing his LifeSpan Furnishing product line. His first product was the Easy Up chair, a chair with longer arm rests and legs pointed outward to make it easy to get up out of the chair, but hard to knock it over in the process. The Easy Up had already won many awards for its senior-friendly design and he was ready to go into full production.
Donnelly started contacting U.S. manufacturers, trying to strike a licensing deal, but they all wanted too much money. He started to peruse furniture stores that would make something similar to his original design, which was made of metal. He found some products made by a Chinese manufacturer that were similar to what he envisioned for his product and learned that they were distributed by Iem, a company based out of California.
When Donnelly contacted Iem, they not only were willing to help him set up production, they wanted to invest in the product. Iem used its network to get the Easy Up chair into production. When Donnelly decided to expand his line to include wooden products, something that Iem and its network didn’t do, Iem was able to use its contacts to find a reliable wood furniture manufacturer for Donnelly.
Since Donnelly started his business, he has found another way to locate manufacturers: industry trade shows. At all the international furniture fairs he attends, there are booths from Asian country trade councils looking for U.S. companies to manufacture their products in their home countries. These councils are willing to go the extra mile in getting you set up in their country, although you still need to be careful in taking the proper steps to determine if the factories themselves are reliable.