East West Manufacturing Blog

How Do I Find the Right Contract Manufacturer?

Written by Andy Reese | September 08, 2016

When aiming to become a world-class seller of premium products, selecting the right contract manufacturer is the most important step. Your ultimate goal should be building a partnership with your manufacturer – a relationship that commands respect and cooperation in both directions. Before setting out on your quest, there are a few steps you need to take to ensure you're carrying your weight and are prepared to engage in a meaningful discussion.

Step 1 |  Protect Your Intellectual Property

Do you have a patent? Or have you filed for your patent? Or received your provisional patent? While you can handle these matters yourself, we recommend hiring – or at least contacting – a patent lawyer at this stage. It's important to protect your design while also ensuring that you aren't infringing on someone else's copyright or existing patents. Better safe than sorry, and best to find out sooner than later, wouldn't you agree?

Read more: Can a Manufacturer Protect My IP in China?

Step 2 |  Finalize Your Design

...And by design, we mean something more than a sketch on the back of a napkin. Why? Well, once you have a solid idea, you'll need engineers to build it. Their first request will be that you send over a complete drawing package. Product development engineers are looking for 2D, 3D or solid models with material specifications and dimensional requirements (+ assembly instructions if applicable).

Suppose your design involves electronics.....in this case, you'll also need a bill of materials (BOM) and Gerber files (more electrical engineering stuff). This stage of the process is critical, and you may need a design engineer to help pull these documents together.

Step 3 |  Build the Prototype

A real-life, working model of your napkin idea has come to life! You can see it, touch it, experience it. But where do you go to make this happen? Simple – you need to find a prototyping firm that can build a few pieces to test your hypothesis. This might require a 3D printer, a machine shop, an EMS, or some combination of these resources.

Step 4 |  Write the Business Plan

You have an idea – and if you could just get your product made, you're positive you could sell it globally. Somewhere between startup mode and obtaining 3 percent of the global market (which will launch your revenue into the billions), you need a plan. Craft your idea, seek advice and test your theory. It’s one thing to think your idea is fantastic. It’s another if people actually prove you right by throwing money at it.

Step 5 |  Start Production

You may be looking at producing a few hundred, or even a few thousand, pieces. We suggest finding a domestic, short-run (small quantity) contract manufacturer to load up your garage. Yes, you will pay more for these pieces, but it's important to achieve some sales success before filling a warehouse.

Step 6 |  Tackle Sales and Marketing

What is your go-to-market strategy? If you have a friend of a friend who knows a buyer at a Huge Retail Chain and your plan is to sell them millions, you still need to show some market success (e.g., sales). Work on securing some sales before someone gives you a purchase order that will launch your business onto the pages of Inc.

Step 7 |  Select Your Contract Manufacturer

We finally made it to the last step: finding the right contract manufacturer. You might want to consider a global manufacturer  global, as in achieving efficiencies of scale by manufacturing overseas. That’s a story for another day, but in the meantime, I'll just leave this here: What is Global Contract Manufacturing? We say this is the final step, but in reality, it's just the tipping point. But the good news is that if you've chosen an excellent contract manufacturing partner, you'll be just fine.

Can you guess what the two most challenging obstacles are between steps one and seven? It takes more time and more money than you might think! Most of these steps are capital-intensive (i.e., you become a check writer). As a global contract manufacturer, we at East West have found that we're able to add the most value once our customers have reached the point of mass production.

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