I recently designed some small pieces of furniture for a company called Staandup Desk. These stands are meant to go on top of a regular desk to allow you to work standing up. I had a conversation by email with the owner, Amber Hagopian, about her manufacturing experience here and abroad. I began with a question about communication.
Bailey: I’ve found that increasing the opportunities for effective communication usually increases the chances for successful product fabrication and delivery. That’s one reason fabricating close to home, versus overseas, can be an effective option. Do you have any comments about this that you can relate specifically to Staandup Desk products?
Amber: I would definitely agree with this. Initially it seemed like we could just send over a purchase order with some drawings to a factory, but what we found after sourcing in China, and then back in the USA, was that there was very valuable input on design and materials from the USA-based fabricators that we did not get from the factories in China.
This was due to several reasons, one being that the USA-based manufacturers were more willing to work with a new company and provide the input, and secondly, there was still a language barrier even with English-speaking coordinators overseas. Our products have gone through several design tweaks based on suggestions and recommendations from our States-based manufacturers which have made our products better quality, lighter in weight and more cost-effective.
What were your biggest hurdles related to manufacturing your first product in China?
The biggest hurdles we faced fabricating a new product overseas were reaching the minimum order quantity and feeling confident the factory we chose was going to provide what we ordered, and get it to us on time, in good condition. We did not use a USA-based third-party company to choose a factory, and ended up with a 20-foot container of product that we ended up paying to have disposed-of, because there was no quality control in place.
The materials used for actual production were of much cheaper quality than the prototype the factory originally provided, and we were unable to sell the items. We did not have proper agreements or warranties in place and ended up taking a total loss with no recourse against the Shenzhen-based company.
In addition to taking the loss, we ended up without inventory to supply the demand we created for our product, which has been an ongoing issue. For one product we cannot get fabricated cost-effectively in the USA, we are now using a States-based company that sources factories overseas, provides quality control, and coordinates shipping to our distribution center.
What were the biggest advantages?
The only advantage we have to sourcing overseas is cost. Even with shipping costs factored in, the materials and labor are so much cheaper over there that if we hadn’t initially sourced overseas we would not have been able to bring the product to market because there was not enough margin to make it worthwhile.
How would you compare/contrast that to your manufacturing experience with the current product in the US?
Here in the States we have been able to order smaller quantities of product as we tweak our design. This also helps with cash flow as we do not have to place large minimum-order quantities and then pay to store them as we ramp up our business. Additionally, the USA-based manufacturers have been very helpful in perfecting the product design for aesthetic and cost. Lead time for smaller quantities is much less in the USA, and being able to be in communication over the telephone with the fabricators here has been helpful.