Ordering samples is an integral part of the supplier selection process. It is also a process that can be hit or miss. While you’re reading this, keep something in mind, we are a sourcing company. We are a company whose job is to assist importers in working with factories. The reason our company exists is that factories are not perfect.
The idea of not ordering samples is a recipe for disaster. After all, who is going to spend thousands of dollars, if not tens of thousands of dollars on a factory without even testing their capabilities?
When ordering samples, you will often encounter two types of samples; On hand samples and custom samples.
On Hand Samples
These are factory samples that rarely meet the specification requirements of a client’s requests, and are primarily whatever the factory has in stock. Since most factories don’t keep inventory, on hand samples can be hit or miss. They could be saved from a high-end production, or they could be defects that were stored by someone, improperly categorized and wound up on the same shelf where other samples can be found, only to make it to your doorstep 16 months after they were produced.
To point out the downsides of on hand samples, it can be rather clear, and sometimes these samples give off a wrong impression. However, on hand samples are a great start to identify a factories capabilities.
Pros for On Hand Samples:
- Readily available
- Representation of a factory’s capabilities (good or bad)
Cons for On Hand Samples:
- Not always an accurate representation of the company’s capabilities for your specification requirements
- Not always from the most current production run, which means they could be dirty or old.
- Often unavailable for custom products.
Why Request the Samples?
While samples are not the only method for obtaining an understanding of a factory’s capabilities, they are a piece to the puzzle. Custom samples, as we explain below, are expensive and time-consuming to create. Being able to save a couple of hundred dollars to thousands of dollars through on hand samples is a viable method of narrowing down your supplier selection.
We often suggest obtaining on hand samples first. If you’re unable to narrow down your supplier selection significantly, it may be worth looking into custom samples.
Custom samples can be created by requesting that factories produce an exact sample of the product you intend to have manufactured, including all specification requirements. The costs involved in this process vary based on the type of product and factory. It is also worth noting, the time it takes to create such sample is a much longer process.
Most brands who opt to have custom samples created first are brands that meet all, or most, of the following characteristics:
- Have an extended time window, allowing for added time to build custom samples, review, correct, and create again.
- Have an extended budget that allows for testing and production assurance to meet their strict requirements.
- Have easily customizable, and simple products such as single material textiles or CNC machined material.
Pros for Custom Samples
- The most accurate representation of a factories manufacturing capabilities.
- Ability to perform proper side by side comparisons to determine the ideal supplier.
Cons for Custom Samples
- Time consuming
- Often unfeasible due to custom mold requirements
Why Request Custom Samples?
Venture backed brands, proven market potential, a non-rushed timeframe, and cushy production budgets are all reasons to focus on custom samples at some point in the supplier selection process.
For the side business looking for e-commerce market validation, it may be difficult for the numbers to make sense to factor the costs in, which means on hand samples may prove to be more ideal.
There is no correct choice on the type of sample to order. Review the pros and cons of each, and allow yourself to make an educated opinion on what is right for your business model.
If custom samples seem ideal but are also too large of a cost to incur, one option would be to see if you can move your pre production sample, which is the sample that is usually made after the initial deposit but before the full production is underway, to before you pay your deposit. This process is often more expensive than the other method of the pre production sample; however, it can provide some level of assurance if you’re concerned with your factories capabilities.
Always keep in mind, samples should not be the only reason you select a supplier. Weigh the results of the samples against the hard information you’ve received in your sample report.
One last thing, never assume a factory will produce something better than their on hand sample. While it can be the case that they can produce better, this is not a business where you want to make assumptions.