Friday, November 6, 2009

Making a Product in China

The pathway to a successful product is challenging enough for big companies, but for the average person with a great idea, getting a product to market can be downright intimidating – to the point that many great products are never made.

Beyond the hurdles involved in getting a product in front of buyers and customers is the fundamental task of actually making a product. While it may be easy enough to make a prototype or two or ten, making 10,000 or 100,000 or millions of almost anything at a globally competitive price will most likely require an entrepreneur to manufacture overseas. Yet unless an inventor-turned-entrepreneur can assure a major buyer that their product can and will be available in quantity, there’s no real chance for growth.

As manufacturing in Asia, Eastern Europe and elsewhere becomes more standard operating procedure than strategic competitive advantage for businesses of every size, first-time inventors often find themselves slogging through the cultural quagmire of dealing with foreign languages, inconvenient time zones, different manufacturing standards, and unusual business practices – all real-world issues that are part of the process of off-shore manufacturing.

John Mulry, founder of Rescue Facts in Central Point, Oregon, is such a budding entrepreneur. John – a retired EMT– saw a need for a way to quickly provide emergency personnel with critical personal and medical information about the victims of automobile accidents. This basic concept led him to develop the Rescue Facts product – an inexpensive nylon wrap that secures around your seatbelt with Velcro. An embroidered universal medical symbol alerts EMS and Police that there is important health information inside.

Initial prototypes were well-received by potential customers and large scale buyers. His business was off and running. Their first production run was handled by a Southern California agent who got their product made in China , but at a price that left quite a bit of room for improvement. Working with me, John was introduced to one of my subcontractors, specializing in U.S./China business facilitation. He provides U.S. companies with a bi-lingual, bi-cultural, time-convenient channel of communication to sources of manufacturing in China through their partner in Guangzhou, which specializes in sourcing and facilitating all manner of manufacturing in China from low-tech to high-tech.

For Mulry, it was a perfect match. Not only was he able to shave a large percentage off his wholesale price, but he ended up with a much better product. From beginning to end, getting things made (and made right) overseas is all about communication. We first took John’s basic product description and drew up a detailed product specification that served as the foundation for the manufacturer to quote against. It assures that both sides understand what is expected – particularly when there are language and cultural issues involved.

Then we worked with both parties to write up a well-structured statement of work and quote. Once their order was placed, Rescue Facts had the opportunity to sign off on samples of every aspect of their production including materials, workmanship, printing and packaging and packing. Together, we work out the details of the process and troubleshoot the problems in both worlds so my clients don’t have to.

What can happen along the way? Lots of things. Most problems arise from simple mis-communication over details that are exacerbated by language, metric conversions, and a lack of technical understanding on the part of the entrepreneur.
First-time inventor/entrepreneurs often don’t understand the manufacturing process and what goes into mass-producing their product. The value-added of a subcontractor is that we not only address the East/West business issues, but also helps bridge the tech/non-tech gap between my clients and the Chinese manufacturers. This really can’t be done effectively by e-mail alone.

For Rescue Facts, the key to quality was both in the production process and in the shipping. Their first batch of products from their original Chinese manufacturer was basically okay, but the packages were unsellable. The product packages were packed improperly allowing them to be damaged in shipping. Mulry was disappointed with that first production run. But now that he is working with me - in English and during normal business hours – everything’s worked out fine. Everything looks good for this new international small business venture.


  1. Glad to see you have a blog. ever since we used you and you did all that PR, we are still getting press on us. Thanks. Murf

  2. great write up and wonderful product!