3 Truths About Outsourced Manufacturing Every Business Should Know
Before manufacturing took over the world, businesses made every product by hand with an immaculate attention to detail. Today, companies blame their own manufacturers and suppliers for poor quality control, however, in many cases their own short-sightedness is the true culprit.
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Outsourcing the Blame Game
With roughly 84 percent of companies outsourcing to at least some degree, this is an important topic to be aware of. Whether it’s the chips used in iPhones or jeans from Levi Strauss & Co., hardly anyone is making everything in the U.S. And it isn’t just Fortune 500 companies that are outsourcing business overseas. Small and midsize businesses are doing it as well.
Whenever you outsource a process, your influence on that process diminishes. A company that outsources manufacturing to another country must either put in the work to maintain quality standards or leave quality control up to the foreign manufacturer.
Breakdowns in this communication saddle foreign manufacturers with their unearned negative reputation in the U.S. American companies outsourced manufacturing to save costs, failed to practice strict quality control, then blamed their failures on manufacturers when customers cried foul.
If you outsource manufacturing, don’t leave quality to chance. Your customers deserve great products. Put in the work to discover how your products will be made and how to maintain high standards of quality.
We use overseas manufacturers at Vincero Watches, but unlike some businesses, we maintain strict quality standards. My co-founders and I spent years on the ground in China working with factories to learn about the processes they follow. When we finally started our company, we knew exactly how to scale our operation without letting quality suffer in the process.
Follow this three-step process to use outsourced manufacturing to create great products:
1. Understand the production process.
How will manufacturers assemble your products? What steps will they take? What does the assembly line look like? Which materials will the workers use?
These are all fundamental questions that must be understood to successfully create a manufacturing process that works for you and your customers. But it goes further than this. You should know what's going on with every aspect of your manufacturing, whether it’s day five or day 500. Day three: does packaging start? If not, what’s the delay? These are questions that will arise by the hour.
Different manufacturers follow different processes. You can agonize over your instructions all you want, but if you don’t learn the intricacies of your partner’s production standards, you'll never know for sure. Only by studying the manufacturing side of your business can you hope to establish quality standards.
2. Establish quality standards.
Different customers expect different quality standards. A person who buys a Bugatti, for instance, expects a greater degree of quality than a person who buys a Toyota.
Determine the standards that are acceptable to your customers and build your process around them. This is where a thorough understanding of the manufacturing process is essential. If you don’t know how the manufacturer operates, you cannot provide relevant feedback on production.
As watchmakers, we keep a close eye on the materials that go into our watches. Small mechanical pieces, for instance, will fail if the manufacturer doesn't use the correct materials. From the marble backing in our casebacks to our logo engraved on our clasps, we carefully monitor material quality and processes at the manufacturer level to avoid bigger problems during the quality control phase.
Once you establish these standards, it’s up to you to maintain them.
3. Enforce and protect your standards.
After you understand the manufacturing process and establish expectations on quality, create a process internally to ensure your products meet those standards.
We inspect every piece of material on our watches before they leave the factory, and again once they arrive in our warehouse. We maintain constant communication with our suppliers in order to work in tandem and solve problems before they become liabilities. This makes our relationship with our suppliers a partnership, working as a single unit, instead of a demanding client that's detached from the process. We take a relationship-oriented approach both in working with our factories and delivering quality products to our customers.
Your customers don’t want to hear about issues with your manufacturers; they want to receive products that meet the quality standards set by your brand. Practice strict quality control on both the materials your manufacturers use and the final products you receive to keep your customers happy.
Before you outsource your operations, put in the legwork to learn about the manufacturing process and ensure you can maintain an acceptable standard of quality. Your company — and your customers — will thank you for it.
Tim Nybo is co-founder of Vincero Watches, a rapidly growing direct-to-consumer brand of luxury watches.