Starting a business can be expensive! The last thing you want is extra cost. However, it’s important you really consider the cost versus benefit when it comes to ordering pre-production samples.
With lots of global sourcing websites around it seems quite easy to find a supplier, order multiples of a product and start selling. Beware, things aren’t always how they look online! You should always see samples prior to actual production.
If you are going to spend time and money on anything in your business, let it be samples. It will take extra time to order, receive and review samples. Of course there is also extra cost. If the samples are coming from overseas you will probably pay to have them sent via air, which is the most expensive option. You may be able to negotiate on costs of samples with the supplier if you’ve used them before. Some suppliers may also provide pre-production samples as a part of their standard manufacturing process. However, they will usually ask you to at least pay for freight.
Pre-production samples give you a chance to check that the product is what you envisioned, that it is the right specifications and that it functions the way that you want it to. Here is some more information on why I believe you should always get samples prior to production:
For Market Research
In an earlier post I went through ways to do market research. Having samples on hand will allow you to conduct research prior to going into full scale production and could save you thousands of dollars. Sometimes there are very simple fixes required to make the initial sample a saleable product. For example, you may learn that your target consumer actually doesn’t like the colour you chose. It’s quite easy to change this and means you may sell a whole lot more product! I read about a bra manufacturer who ordered a whole lot of samples and had her friends and families wear her bras over a few weeks. With all the feedback collected she was able to make tweaks to the final product to get the fit just right. This is something that will create happy consumers who talk positively about your products for years to come.
The other thing you might find is that the product is not at all what you expected. It might be awful! When purchasing goods from overseas factories, sometimes the quality just isn’t what you expect. Spending a few hundred dollars on samples, to find that the supplier you chose is completely unusable may be disappointing but can you imagine if you’d gone into full scale production with them? Ideally you would visit suppliers, and be present for a first production run, but I realise that this isn’t a reality for many small start-ups.
Be aware of suppliers who defend poor samples, and promise that they will fix all of the issues in actual production. I would ask them to re-do the samples to prove that they can fix the issues first. This may also give you some negotiating power to get a second lot of samples at their cost.
You might change your mind
Let’s face it, not everyone is good at visualising things. Whilst you thought your idea was great, once you see the product you might be a little disappointed. The supplier may have done everything you’d asked for, it just isn’t as great as you’d hoped. Now that you have a physical sample though, you can see where your ideas went wrong. It might not be the end of your product idea, maybe it just needs some tweaking or some expert advice to improve it. If the changes are simple enough, you can brief the supplier and ask for new samples. Or it might be time to bring in an expert (like a designer or consultant) to help you understand where your execution has gone wrong.
Finally, if you are happy with your pre-production samples, let the supplier know. However, also be clear about your tolerances. The supplier may have some tolerances of their own on colour or size. Ensure you understand this before placing your order. Let them know which aspects of the product are most critical to get correct. Ensure all of your expectations are clearly communicated.