You identified your suppliers, you asked for samples, and now you’ve got them. How are you going to evaluate them?
It’s best to think before the samples come in about exactly what your product sales proposition is, the niche you’re targeting, and what you need to beat the competition. Then list the relevant qualities so that you’ll be able to mark each sample against them. In particular, if some of your competitors have bad reviews for some aspects of their product, make sure your sample addresses the issue – lack of durability, rough feel, or whatever.
Any factors which are differentiators for your product are particularly important, so mark them in highlighter.
You also need to put a line or two for evaluating the supplier’s attitude and communications. Did the supplier understand what you really wanted? Did they send exactly what you asked for? Did they add ideas like using wasted material from a dog blanket to make tartan dog collars, or tell you that sizing the product a little bigger would still give you ten units per yard of the standard width material – improving your product for almost nothing?
Were they proactive, asking you questions so they could understand exactly what was required, or adding information or suggestions? And did you get the idea that you were being treated as a small and rather unimportant customer who had to wait in line, or was the salesperson saying “I can make this happen,” and “Let me see if I can push you up the priority list”? Have they suggested complementary products that you could sell?
What you’re trying to find out here is whether this supplier will be a good partner going forwards, and whether they’ll be able to grow with your business, or whether you’ll end up outgrowing them. Your work here could save you a lot of trouble further down the road.
Next, obviously, you’ll want to evaluate product quality, using the grid you already created. Check that the sizing is what you wanted. Check the look and feel – for instance, an injection molded product that’s really high quality will have the seams removed, and a good towel should feel full and fluffy, not thin and threadbare.
If durability is an issue, you may need to be prepared to do a bit of destructive testing. For instance, if your product is a cat carrier, you need to know that it won’t collapse on your cat if you put it down. You need to make sure that a cat can’t scratch its way out, too.
Now think if there are any surprises in the samples. Did the supplier include a feature you weren’t expecting? Have they suggested possible product variants (a different color or size)? Is this a standard issue product with just your private label added, or is it fully customized?
Finally, your supplier will have given you a minimum order quantity (MOQ). If it’s a little bit higher than you expected, you might be able to negotiate; but if it’s way out of line, you may need to rethink.
You will also have a price. But this isn’t a final price. Many manufacturers will expect to negotiate so they have left themselves a little bit of room, anyway. Don’t let a very small difference in price between two suppliers make the final decision for you – go back and negotiate with the supplier you really want.
If it’s a tie, be honest with your suppliers. Tell them you have another supplier that also looks good, but suggest the two things that would make a difference – maybe that’s the price plus a slightly better packaging, or lower MOQ at the same price. Don’t try to renegotiate the entire package, but give them some room to come back to you with a proposal.
This is a lot of work – but if you evaluate samples in this disciplined way, you’ll get much better long term results.