As I continue to navigate the sphere of starting and running a fashion company, the one place that seems to trip up people faster than anything else is production. Tying up costs in inventory, producing too much or too little, manufacturing lead times doubling and tripling. Sound familiar?
In a bid to avoid the myriad of mistakes that can often break start ups – I ventured out to China and Hong Kong recently on a ‘pre-production’ mission to learn the ropes. Here are the top tips I came away with.
Preparation Will Improve Your Negotiation Power
At the risk of sounding cynical, factories will exploit your lack of knowledge. Before you visit do your homework. If you can talk intelligently about the process of production, bring samples along of what you want and ask the right questions you are much less likely to (pardon my French) get screwed.
There are many people that have made mistakes and successfully navigated the process so talk to them first.
Balance the Price and Minimum Order Quantity Equation
The Minimum Order Quantity is that magic number of units that factories will tell you to you have to produce to begin to work with them. Most factories will not produce samples without an MOQ commitment or will do at a huge cost.
Depending on your product category these MOQ’s will run into the thousands. But don’t be fooled by the low price high MOQ equation. You will end up paying the price through storage and other costs associated with holding inventory. Don’t rule out the higher prices but lower MOQ options, especially if this is your first collection.
Do the Exchange Rate Check
This is a subtle but important point. When you are spending in the thousands, exchange rates make a difference. Ask for the local price and make sure you are paying a fair exchange rate when converting to US dollars.
You also need to be prepared to protect yourself against fluctuating rates on re-orders so make sure you ask these questions upfront and where possible make it explicit in the contract.
Be Aware of Where Your Start Up is in the Priority Order
Unfortunately as a start up and especially if its your first fashion collection, you will be low on the priority list until you can prove that you will be doing large volumes of business with the factory. What this translates to in practice is that when the factory goes through its seasonal busy periods (especially if they have several larger clients) your production will be de-prioritized and you may well experience longer lead times. You need to discuss these scenarios openly and make sure you have a single point of contact you can liaise with to keep things moving.
Of course there are so many more tips and lessons to learn and knowledge you will gain the more factories you meet. Finding a good sourcing agent or at least talking to one can be a huge strategy for minimizing risk in the beginning.
The ideal scenario is to have the customer order in hand before you produce. Where that isn’t possible, have a really solid sales and marketing strategy in place before any production – including how you would sell any overstock. It is far more fun to have a customer waiting list than a huge stock list!