Working Successfully with Manufacturers and Suppliers

Just Got Made • 20 Apr 2016

Author: Helen Kemp, Just Got Made

Duke Studios Leeds Just Got Made

After graduating as a textile designer, I’ve spent the last 12 years of my life designing, creating and navigating the complex system of design production. Over time I learnt how to speak the right technical jargon, get order documents prepared on time, do my own quality checking and what to do when things go spectacularly wrong!

But the most valuable thing I learnt was how to build good relationships with my suppliers – these are the people who will be making and manufacturing your work, and supplying you with materials and equipment.

If you are a designer, creative or founder of a start up, it’s likely that the responsibility of the production process has landed with you. So here are my best pieces of advice when it comes to working with manufacturers and suppliers.

Show your Track Record and Expertise

By giving evidence of your business being successful and reliable, you are more likely to get your foot in the door when approaching new suppliers to work with.

Highlight your positive track record by mentioning successful past projects, good sales records, press or awards. Also give mention to your future sales plan and include upcoming opportunities with new stockists, trade shows and any exciting marketing activities up your sleeve.

Chop Shop CNC Just_Got_Made

Be Honest about Your Scale Now and in the Future

Being honest and transparent with your supplier builds a good working relationship, based on realistic expectations on both sides. It’s tempting to exaggerate your figures and big plans, but being straightforward is often the best policy. Don’t make the rookie mistake of promising repeat orders of 300 units when you may realistically begin by only selling 30 units a year!

Get your Timing Right

In our non-stop, digital world, it’s easy to forget that we can’t always get what we want, when we want it!

Most industries also have seasonal busy and quiet periods, so make your initial contact well in advance of your deadlines.

Knowing when your supplier may be closed is also vital – for example in China all work is suspended during the New Year, a vast majority of Italian and French factories close during August, and here in the UK we shut shop at Christmas!

Be Specific about What you Need

Manufacturing processes and materials have so many variables that it’s vital to be clear and concise about what you need.

Pay attention to the details. For example instead of approaching someone and asking “I need some laser cutting done next week, can you help me?” try asking “I need 50 metal jewellery pieces laser cut by a delivery deadline of Friday 25th August, and I already have brought my own material, can you help me?”.

This makes the experience quicker and easier all round.


Finally, Don’t Forget the Basics!

The dynamics of good working relationships are simple: be friendly, be professional and be honest, always.

Make sure you prepare well, don’t make last minute design changes or add things in last minute (difficult for creatives!) and pay up on time. It also never hurts to write a thank you for a job well done.

Happy making! – Helen, Just Got Made

This article was written after a teaching webinar for members of The Design Trust on “Finding the Right Manufacturing Partner”.

What are your experiences? Join the conversation on Twitter @Just_Got_Made

Photo credits L-R: Duke StudiosChop Shop CNC,  Thames Barrier Print Studio