I recently spoke with Liz Long of Learn To Make A Product, who I’ve worked with in the past, about low budget new product development for importers who are getting their products manufactured in Asia.
New product development can be tough for importers, especially entrepreneurs, startups, and small businesses who are doing it for the first time, so what advice does Liz have to offer?
Introducing Liz Long
Liz cut her manufacturing teeth by being at the forefront of the reusable shopping bag industry when they first became popular several years ago. She learnt about new product development and manufacturing the hard way, and is therefore well-placed to assist importers who are new to manufacturing because of her personal experience.
Putting her experience to work since 2011, Liz has been guiding importers through the development and manufacturing minefield, helping them to launch new products and reduce risk, with a focus on consumer goods like apparel, bags, toys, home decor and more. She gives importers the guidance and support they need to find the right suppliers, test products properly, and plan for safe delivery.
Low budget new product development Q&A
Many importers with new product ideas are working on a low budget, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t (or shouldn’t) conduct new product development.
Q: Let’s say I have a day job, but I think of a totally new product and I want to have it manufactured in Asia. What would the first steps be?
A: Your very first job is to get what we call “proof of concept”. Do people actually want your product? Who is the competition and how will you differentiate yourself? Are there any pricing or material requirements you’ll have for manufacturers? Think through these questions fully first before you do anything else. You can conduct surveys, pay for formal focus groups, or use a site like Pickfu to get consumer feedback in minutes.
Manufacturing a product requires a lot of time and energy, so you want to be sure your idea is solid, and that your design is well-researched!
Q: Are there product categories where this type of project is more accessible, or more likely to succeed?
A: Sewn goods – clothing, accessories, home decor – are some of the easiest. The design and sampling process is pretty inexpensive and straightforward, and there are a lot of existing sewn products on the market to use for research and inspiration.
Any items that require molds or a lot of upfront tooling are going to be expensive! For example, if you are launching an original footwear line, you’ll need to make molds – that could cost hundreds of dollars each – for each shoe style and size you’ll offer. And whenever design costs are higher, that often means minimums are higher too, so your overall investment is large.
If your development costs are substantial, it’s really important to have a design expert to review your plans before you start sampling. Otherwise, you might pay for molds or tooling that you ultimately can’t use!
Q: What are the most common pitfalls makers (who want to have their own product manufactured) are likely to fall into?
A: People often think that once they have a final sample from a factory, their work is done. They assume the factory will replicate that sample perfectly during batch production (“Because why wouldn’t they?!”) and that all they have to do now is get the product and start taking orders from customers!
This is far from true. Firstly, any weak spots that came up during the sampling process (printing issues, sizing, incorrect material used etc) will often show up during batch production, even if the error was supposedly corrected. Further, the stakes are higher once you give the green light for your manufacturing run to begin. What if defects arise that can’t be corrected? When this happens on a sample you just make a new one, but when it comes to production, you could lose an entire run of product!
It’s crucial to enlist the help of a quality control agency to support you during the manufacturing process. They can inspect your materials and goods before, during, and after production to alert you of problems, and help you negotiate solutions with the supplier so that your final order is in sellable condition.
Q: People sometimes think manufacturing is something that happens in the background, is done by specialists, and demands little time & attention. Is that the truth?
A: Yes and no. It’s a HUGE amount of work to find the right factories, successfully sample a product, and prepare for production. This beginning phase takes so much more time and energy than people expect. And manufacturing your product will always require oversight and flexibility, even after the initial heavy lifting is done. Materials become unavailable and an alternative must be sourced; a factory raises pricing and it’s time to look for someone new; performing quality control becomes a full-time job as the businesses volume grows. These are all tasks that don’t really go away.
But that said, the goal should be about getting a good team in place because once that happens, manufacturing should get a bit less labor-intensive for the entrepreneur! If they have suppliers they trust, a great quality control team on the ground, a logistics company to handle shipping… then it becomes more about operating the supply chain rather than building, which requires less energy for them personally.
Q: Are there any resources you’d suggest to people thinking of developing and launching a new product?
A: Well, I can’t not say our company Learn To Make A Product! Helping people bring their product ideas to life without breaking the bank is a big priority of ours, and there are a lot of great tools that make this possible. We recommend sites like Design Contest and Creative Market for graphic design, Shopify for e-commerce hosting, SquareUp for product photos, and Shipmonk for low-minimum fulfilment.
Thanks for your comments Liz!
Have you got experience in low budget new product development? What tips can you share with our community? Any questions that we haven’t covered here? Please leave them as a comment below.
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