So when I received the prototype of The Fuel Can from the 3D printer, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. It was incredibly exciting to see the idea turned into reality. It also brought me to the next crossroads. The printed prototype cost was almost $200, therefore to bring it to market, I would have to adapt the design to mass production and find a factory that would produce it in a cost effective, high quality manner.
I started my search with no preference on whether it would be produced in the US or another country. I do prefer US made products, but if the market won’t bare the price, I realize some things are more effectively produced oversees. In this decision I took several factors into consideration that I have learned from importing products for my other business:
-Generally lower cost.
-Higher quantities are generally more easily acquired.
-Language and cultural barriers to communication.
-Difficulty in traveling to see facility and check up on production.
-Payment terms place most risk on purchaser.
-Perception of quality by vendor is not the same.
-Perceived lower quality in the market.
-Timeframe involved in product production and development.
-Shipping/importing, time in transit.
-Communication with company is generally easier.
-Travel to visit facility is easily done.
-Payment terms are more convenient. Credit cards can sometimes be used.
-Perceived value in the market is better.
-Generally lower lead times from ordering to delivery.
-Many times, lower quantities are possible to start smaller.
-Pricing can sometimes be higher. (customs, duties, and freight should be considered)
-Some vendors charge a premium to “inexperienced” customers.
So I started the process by reaching out to several (about 15) Chinese vendors through Alibaba.com and about the same number of domestic producers that I found through a Google search. I received responses from about 5 foreign and 5 domestic vendors.
It was interesting that of the foreign contacts, it quickly narrowed down to two vendors as some said they could not produce The Fuel Can. One vendor immediately put forward a price. This was somewhat suspect to me. It was a low price and either they were not taking all things into consideration or they just really understood what it would take to produce the can, but it didn’t feel like they knew everything they needed to in order to quote that quickly.
The US vendors were even more interesting. Two stepped out saying that it could not be produced. Two said that it could be produced and they threw out wildly exorbitant prices for molds and finished products. There was only one US factory that took the time to really understand the product and put out a number that was significantly higher than the Chinese vendor, but seemed reasonable taking into consideration the benefits of working with a US company.
I decided that if this would work, I would prefer to work with the US company. I set up and appointment and the next week I got on a plane to visit the factory in order to hash out final design requirements and verify that the vendor was legitimate.
The visit went very well and I took the rest of the weekend to discuss the offer with my wife and decide if it was a fit for us. Two days later, after talking with some other manufacturers and determining that the pricing was inline, I accepted the vendor’s offer and moved the project forward.
That brings us to today. We have finalized design requirements and are moving forward with mold production. Upon completion, we will receive prototypes from the molds. If all is good, we will move forward with the initial production run.
It has been interesting to me that this decision has been the hardest part of the process. In the past leading up to this point, the investments have been significant, but spread out over time. This was the first time when we really had to dig deep inside and decide if this was going to happen, or if it would be another unfinished idea. That moment where you have to put a significant financial amount on the table to see your product come to life is a hard one. From that point, the commitment level changes. It no longer is a “will this work” situation. It turns into “this will work, how do we make it happen?”
I have a lot to learn in this process and journey. I hope something I share here will inspire and help someone else who is trying to make something happen. I hope I can use this to make sure my decisions are sound and that they are moving us towards seeing this project through. I will continue to document the decisions and steps I am taking to do this.