Ask anybody who has ever tried to source a product or manufacture their own design and you will hear stories of how hard it is to find the right manufacturer. The web has changed that, but not entirely. It is still not always easy or fast to determine which manufacturer might be the best fit for making your product.
Whether you are at the stage of producing your first small batch of product or needing to produce at a larger scale, most entrepreneurs wrestle with the cost of manufacturing in China versus the U.S.
It depends on the product, of course, but generally it can be a bit more expensive to manufacture in the U.S. For many entrepreneurs and designers, however, earning a "Made In USA" label can be a branding badge of honor. It can earn you respect – and – loyal customers who prefer to “buy American."
For domestic manufacturing, there are two main ways to find a manufacturer to produce your design.
1. Maker's Row – a fee-based web platform that operates as a matchmaking service between designers/creators and manufacturers.
2. MFG.com – a large trade organization that has manufacturers in a database from which you can request information for free.
As most consumers know, however, many of their favorite products are made outside of the U.S., frequently in China. For Chinese manufactures, there are two main choices.
1. Sourcify – a fee-based platform similar to Maker's Row but focused mostly on China and overseas factories. Nathan Resnick, CEO and Founder of Sourcify, has an excellent overview guest blog post about finding the best factory to manufacture your product. It details many of the questions and items you should think about before sourcing overseas (and applies domestically, too).
2. Alibaba – is the 800-pound gorilla when you are looking for a Chinese manufacturer — it has over 2 million verified suppliers. It is easy to search, but it's easy to get overwhelmed, too.
The beauty of Alibaba is you can instantly find and review what overseas manufacturers are making. There are no upfront fees or commitments, just straightforward browsing, which is what you need in the early days of exploring China versus U.S. manufacturers. The platform is constantly iterating on features and services to help small companies find new products.
Rieva Lesonsky, former editor for Entrepreneur magazine and well-known small business expert, shared a review on Alibaba's Source Now tool that explains how it works. The tool lets you capture an image and then automatically search the Alibaba merchant database to find suppliers. The screenshots below give you the three steps to install in the Chrome browser. Here is a short demo video on how to use the Source Now tool once installed.
While the process of choosing a manufacturer to produce your design or invention is never simple, these platforms make it a little less stressful and more transparent. With a fraction of the effort it took only a few short years ago, you will soon have a finished product in your customer's hands.
If you're looking for additional information in your product sourcing journey, check out these articles that may help you make more informed decisions: 12 Things We Wish We Had Known About Manufacturing and Is it Time to Use a Contract Manufacturer?