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The Do’s & Don’ts of Communicating with Factories

How frustrating is it when you contact factories or suppliers and get no response? Regardless of whether you are contacting them for business, pricing or for more information, you mean business, so why don’t they reply? Here are the Do’s and Don’ts of communicating with factories so that you get better results.

It is always a little confusing after you pitch to a factory with an email or letter asking for information or a quote and they never get back to you. It is hard to understand why anyone would turn down the opportunity to build new connections and create new business. But the simple truth is that suppliers often receive many enquiries from designers and fashion start-up businesses, that rarely result in orders for that supplier.

Here is some advice on communicating with factories:

Don’t contact a supplier before you’re ready

Make sure you are well organised so you can order – and provide – accurate and well-structured prices and guidelines. Suppliers are going to need certain information about your product, such as:

  • Detailed images of the items
  • Spec sheets
  • CAD drawings
  • Physical samples

If you are contacting suppliers without any of this information, then it is probably best to not contact them until you have all the major details in place. This avoids wasting the supplier’s time and also avoids making you look disorganised and unprofessional.

Do your research

Always research a factory as much as possible before deciding to place an order. Call the factory and find out who is the right person to speak to, then email them directly and follow up with a phone call.

Emailing or phoning beforehand shows that you are interested in their business and that you are well organised. Ask them about:

How they work?

How big they are?

Who else they work for?

What the minimum quantity is – make sure you clarify if that number refers to just style or style/colour

Lead times for production and sampling, and the sampling costs involved.

Bear in mind that asking for a quote on 50 items when the factory requires 500 or more pieces per item, could be a reason that a factory would not be interested in getting back to you. Remember that your success is also the factory’s success.

It’s also vital to keep a written record of conversations and agreements reached. They will serve you well if there is a dispute further down the line.

Don’t get personal

Try and keep the information about your project to a minimum of ‘need to know’ information, as your supplier may not have time to read or reply to, long letters or emails. Suppliers only really need to know – or are concerned with – what their role is in the project and what your requirements are. Focus on what you are asking from them and what they need to do. You are communicating with the factories, not getting to know about their personal lives.

Make sure that suppliers know of any large orders that you have from clients, as well as any investors that are interested in your business, as this shows the supplier your company is operating well and worth working with.

Do start small

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket: Start with a small order and see how well made it is, if everything was on time, and how you work and communicate with the factory.

Remember to ask yourself these three important questions:

1.Can they do the job?

2.Will they do the job?

3.Can you work together?

If they are right for you and your product, evaluate the process further and decide how you can continue in a way that you’re happy with.

Don’t start a relationship by asking for a favour

Always make sure that you stay professional. Unless your order is significant, do not ask for a discount or smaller minimum than what the factory usually works with, as you risk the chance of lowering the quality of the product.

As the saying goes, ‘you get what you pay for’, and for suppliers, time is money. So if there are other brands willing to meet the factory’s requirements, they will be favourable.

Do make a payment agreement

Before you and your manufacturer both agree on working together, make it clear from the beginning what the payment agreement will be to avoid late delivery and disappointments.

It’s never too early to do this, and having agreements that are pre-arranged and confirmed in writing – by both parties – will be really helpful for your professional relationship.

Don’t be too secretive

The phrase ‘Trust No One’ doesn’t really work in this industry. The problem you face when you are secretive about your ideas and designs with a supplier, is that it appears that there is lack of trust. It can also be counter productive, as they will not be able to give you an accurate quote.

If discussing your idea is of a major concern to you, you can still protect your idea by providing a simple Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) that is to be signed beforehand.

Do visit the factory

We strongly recommend that you visit the factory before you start working with them. It really helps to build your relationship with the people who will be making your goods. It will give you a chance to see them at work, and examples of the work they do. Only then will you know if this is the right factory for your fashion business.

Once you start to work with a factory, try to visit as often as possible, especially at the beginning and end of a project in order to communicate on the initial briefing and on quality control. Real ‘Face-time’ is key to a good relationship with your factory.

Do have clear expectations

Be honest and clear in terms of your expectations. This is your brand and your product, and you need to be totally sure that the factory is on the same wavelength as you.

Be clear of:

What you expect the product to look like
The quality of the product
The price
The timelines of delivery.
Once the details are agreed and you have decided to go ahead with the supplier, check that the purchase order has a cancellation date, in case you need to cancel the order due to late delivery.

Don’t create too much work

Ask the supplier for what you absolutely need, in simple terms. Requests for complicated quotes or cost comparisons with a variety of material options are time consuming for factories to prepare.

Put forward the questions you need answered first, and if you are still both interested in working together, you can then talk in more detail with CAD designs and spec sheets to refer to.

Do appreciate your factory

Praise and thank the factory when they have done a good job: If a product that they made received press coverage, send them a cutting. This will make them feel appreciated, and the gesture will make them want to work harder for you in the future. As much as you MUST be professional, don’t be afraid to use a healthy mix of your common sense and a sense of propriety – and be human!

Remember, it takes time to build a relationship, and you need to get used to how the factory is run and they need to get used to what you need. It is normal to face a few teething problems at the beginning, but the important thing is to resolve them quickly and to not have the same recurring issue. Communicating with factories, the right as well as wrong parts about your work-relationship, is important.