Making samples is sort of like the last frontier to stamp out supplier miscommunication and quality problems that can arise in mass production. During this critical phase, be attentive. Attentiveness during sampling avoids disasters that can spring up too far down the line to catch. 

This is Part III to my sampling kick.

  • Questions on Samples for Your Supplier
  • A Supplier’s View on Sampling
  • Many of the problems that happen during or found at the end of mass production, usually began waaaay back in early phases of the project. If you are not serious while the supplier is confirming specs and making samples, do not be surprised if final mass production has errors.

    Before sampling starts, be thorough with your specs

    In a perfect world, all specs are provided in the quoting phase. But in fast-paced quoting and manufacturing, this does not always happen.

    Typical Scenario:
    The supplier eyeballs an image for the quoting phase.

    Then it’s time to start sampling and time for you, the buyer, to provide specs.

    Avoid thinking, “well, this is a bag factory, they should be able to tell me the specs of the bag I need. Just do it same as the photo!”

    The factory possibly could sit down and make a rendering and spend time designing your bag for you. This is an unrealistic expectation. Unless you are buying a substantial amount from this factory every year, they typically will not design your item for you.

    Don’t play “guess my specifications and measurements” with the factory.

    Before you have the factory to start making samples, give them what they need. Measurements, images, physical samples…whatever you can provide the factory to get the desired piece.

    Too often factories invest time and resources into making samples then the buyer says the measurements or specs are wrong.

    Then the buyer, measures something that they HAVE HAD ON HAND all the while or takes photos of something that they were sitting on and could have shown the factory from the beginning!!!

    By that time, the factory’s patience is exhausted and they are not willing to make a second sample. They say, “Place the order and we’ll send you a mass production sample”. This is risky.

    Be thorough with your specs from the get-go; avoid having the factory to make something again…because you did not give them what they needed.

    It’s normal for a supplier to start a sample project without proper information. The supplier does not realize the specs are not sufficient to properly produce. They make an “odd” sample and when you call them on it, they throw their hands up and are ready to give up. You think, “why did they not ask?”.

    They think, “why did you not give the detail?”

    It’s a series of disconnected steps.

    Photos from supplier while making samples

    Insist on photos from the vendor during the sampling phase. Discuss this in advance so they are not caught off guard and shrug you off whenever you ask.

    If you are having custom samples made, proper photos let you see progress and alerts you if something should be changed in the samples BEFORE the supplier sends the samples.

    You could find a stop point during the process; for example, if there is a logo on the item, you could ask the supplier to send you an image of the plating and practice prints to assure they got the logo right.

    Avoid starting the sample, not hearing anything from your supplier and then 1 day receiving an email that says “sample is on the way”. That’s not good sample control.

    Negotiating the setup fee for making samples

    Try to use your best professional judgement here. From a supplier’s point of view, a client that negotiates a sample fee must not be very serious about ordering and probably has an ulterior motive (wants a sample to shop to a different vendor, is not a serious buyer, is a small buyer).

    Unless the quoted sample fee is outrageous, my advice is to leave it alone.

    Sometimes, the sample fee is quoted as “refundable upon ordering. If you forecast there may be multiple changes and effort involved in making the sample, a nice gesture towards you vendor is waiving this on their behalf.

    Help to create a motivation in the process.

    Lastly avoid being casual about your sample requests

    Avoid treating the factory like an inexhaustible fountain of samples.

    Before you pull the trigger to make customized samples, it won’t hurt if you double-check the possibility of the project.

    The setup fee seldom covers the full amount of resources and time that the factory invests.

    It’s real people doing real work.

    If you have the factory make the sample when the order was not very close to coming to fruition, then you risk exhausting your resource and burning a bridge.

    The factory may not fall for it next time.