What I’ve learned falling down the Manufacturing Rabbit Hole.

As a single mom entrepreneur I have had to walk down many an unknown path.  I have had to blindly seek out manufacturers for each item I design for my line of products.  My goal is to have everything made here in the USA.  A seemingly difficult task as most people think everything is manufactured in China.

Despite popular perception, the United States is still the world’s largest manufacturing economy, producing 22% of the world’s manufactured products, according to the National Association of Manufacturers, a Washington, D.C. based trade and lobbying group.  China comes in second, at 13%, and Japan is third, at 11%, says Erin Streeter, the group’s assistant vice-president for communications.

The difficulty that I face, like most startup entrepreneurs, is finding a manufacturer locally that will take a chance on a brand-new product like mine with small production runs.  This is true regardless of whether I choose locally or head overseas.

I am not getting on a plane to China. Besides, my father would be utterly disappointed that I was not keeping my promise to him to proudly advertise my ‘made in the USA’ logo.  Overseas production is not interested in my small volumes anyway.  I am not a ‘high volume company’… yet. 🙂  So for now, I need to approach potential manufacturers with the basic understanding of what my company needs, have a handle on probable costs, (I am funding this project myself!)  and most importantly;  have a finished, perfected prototype that is patent protected.

Lucky for me, I have met many Marketing and Social Media consultants through various friends who have given me some AMAZING advice— ALL of which I am very grateful for. To Gregory Markel (Infuse Creative),  Scott Muldrum (Pollin8),  and Michael Chaleff (Practical Influence)…I thank you all for your time, advice and support in my endeavors over the last 3 years.  I advise anyone out there to ALWAYS be open to listening when other professionals in your field offer their history and counsel.  In the business world it can help you navigate some huge pitfalls just by learning of others mistakes and help you recognize good opportunities when they come right at you.  From my discussions with these experts and now friends, I learned to focus on what really matters in my company.

So, for those out there wondering, here are some truly basic things the pros advise you to have together before beginning the manufacturing process. Here is a list…get your pen ready.

1. Have a complete Prototype.
Engineer your design, have a complete understanding of how it will be produced.
(injection mold, cut, sewn, what?)

2. Have a manufacturing budget.
Know what you (and your investors) can afford and how much you are willing to spend.

3. Business Plan (write one!)
This can be a one page summary of your project. Include details about the status of your design, it’s costs and price targets, the quantities you’ll be starting with, how the product will be sold, the status of any patent applications you may have filed and whether you have gotten interest in licensing the manufacturing or marketing rights to the product.  Manufacturing plants cannot tell you if they are capable or interested without these important details about your product and company plans. Before you can write this you must determine your goals and objectives for your company.

I also find myself constantly googling articles about small business start-ups, tips, ideas, successes and even seeking solace in failures and other companies tough breaks. It helps to  know I am not the only one who has weathered some storms. I have had set backs, many in fact. But I feel it is all part of my journey.  As my dad would say you won’t appreciate it if it is handed to you…when you work hard for it, it tastes so much better.  Ok, my dad also says he is “Finer than Frog Hair” all the time too so…take what quotes you like from him.

www.entrepreneur.com is a GREAT website.

I recently read: 10 Tips for the First-Time Business Owner.  Good info!  Thanks to Scott Gerber for writing it and sharing his thoughts I agree with all 10!
Here is the link: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/203254

Also another great post by AJ Kumar: 5 Daily Habits for Effective Social Media Marketing
Here is the link:  http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/225609

The article: How to Find a Manufacturer For Your Product, by Christopher Hann was the helpful to me presently.  http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/223777

As an inexperienced small business owner I am grateful for advice. When I was a pregnant mother, everyone and anyone who saw my bulging waistline gave me advice everywhere I went. Back then, I couldn’t stand it, made me crazy actually. This life experience is SO similar to childbirth, I am giving birth to a business. But this time if friends, family, strangers, internet, business moguls…you name it, if they offer any advice-I will take it! I crave it!  Throw it at me…I want to hear it. I will listen and appreciate whatever words of wisdom I can obtain.  To me business advice is like the rain. The softer it falls, the longer it dwells on me, the harder it falls-the deeper it sinks into my mind.

I have accomplished this manufacturing task once so I know that I can do it again. I did it on my own. Maybe luck? Maybe fate. Maybe being prepared made all the difference.

I had a complete Prototype. I sought out a place that could make my Hot Spot Mats. We re-designed and then created a mold for silicone.   I had a complete understanding of all the details about my product.  What materials were in it, what temperature it needed to resist, all the possible uses it could have.

I had a manufacturing budget. I knew how much money I had to invest in this initial project to launch my company.  I did not have any other investors. It was a great risk, and there were some tough times stretching my paycheck to cover my rent, my sons school expenses, food, gas, and manufacturing costs.  I will be totally honest, there were nights I could not sleep.  I worried about spending money on my inventions and not putting it aside for my sons.

Late at night, in the dark…this is when you have to believe in yourself, your ideas and your goals.  As I walked the hallways and listened to the sounds of my sons breathing in their restful sleep I had to find the strength to continue. Am I making the best choices for our future? it crossed my mind constantly.  I was trying to create another source of income and way of life for our family so we can hopefully have more time together in the end. I wanted to keep going for that reason alone. It is hard doing it by myself… being a single mother.  I had no partner to tell me it was ok or that I am doing the right thing.  I do not have that voice in a tough moment at home that says “I am with you! You can do it honey!”  I wish I did, but I don’t so it is ok.  I have learned to trust myself and my instincts. I think for me…I had to learn to rely on faith and endurance.  I will keep the momentum going as long as I can and expand my company with new products to manufacture in the years to come.

I did not have a business plan.  Ok, busted. I still don’t.  I have not needed it yet. But I got my faith and endurance right? Business pros please do not shake your fingers at me!  New Business peeps-do not follow me on this one. Make a plan.

My manufacturing update:

A few days ago I dropped off my newest caddy prototype to begin the manufacture process and a completely new molding process.  Luckily I am working with a familiar manufacturer so I feel good about all the progress we are making at the moment. We are doing the first “sample” and then I give my notes and we discuss what changes occur before we finalize the cost and status of making a new mold to mass produce my caddy’s.  It is the same basic process I went through for my silicone heat mats.  The manufacturer and I work as a team.  We have to be on the same page and agree on the design structure for the complete process to work out in the end. I trust his experience and he listens to my ideas and incorporates them, This is a healthy partnership.

I also left drawings and sketches of another idea I have had but did not have a prototype for.  The owner said he could actually make the prototype for me!  So when I return for my next meeting with him I should have a caddy prototype sample and a “name a secret still” prototype sample.  TWO more additions to my product line! Just need to patent them both…working on it.

Now, I have also invented a new type of cape.  It is really cool and I recently finished the prototypes for it. (comes in Black and Brown)  Super cool design. Cannot wait to share that one with you all-but I am currently working on applying for a patent for it, and then considering the notion of selling the manufacturing rights to an existing cape company.  It is good to have options and legally protect your options.

In an upcoming blog I will certainly discuss the benefits of lawyers and patents and contracts oh my!

But for now, still sticking with my plan of all products by HairFerry Inc being made in the USA.
(gotta make dad proud!)

And…I will be sure to keep you posted on the status of my manufacturing adventure.   I promise!

HairFerry flying out!

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