Scott Kington, co-founder of Made Blunt, which makes its Blunt umbrellas in China, talks to Gill South about his experiences.
Any place on earth can produce the spectrum of quality ranging from the pathetically cheap and shoddy to the sublime. Manufacturing in China is no exception but it does sometimes surprise people that the best quality globally can originate from there.
For a variety of reasons we knew we couldn't produce locally so our focus was to find the best manufacturer in China producing to the world's best standards. For us this allowed access to the knowledge and expertise in the industry not available in NZ as well as benefiting from the volume of our manufacturer. Trying to replicate this locally as a start-up just wasn't possible.
There is an element of luck in ensuring you land in the right place. But having said that, there are ways you can help ensure you will be lucky. One key ingredient that helped us was to make use of a significant strength of NZ which is the extensive resource of Kiwis living abroad.
Tap into this wealth of knowledge as these people generally can identify the good from the not good. They can help steer you towards the better factories based on experience.
Our Kiwi abroad was David Haythornthwaite who has a wealth of experience in the area of China we went to. Our factory is located outside of Xiamen in China. His years of expertise there helped us in the introduction and set up with a top manufacturer of umbrellas, a factory that he had helped set up for a German company when they moved their production there.
Another key is to go there for the right reasons. We went to China because pretty much the entire umbrella industry globally has moved there and it is where the expertise and industry support resides. And our focus from day one was on exporting so it located us perfectly for this.
Don't go there to find a bargain. That isn't the right reason and you will quickly find quality issues cropping up as the manufacturer tries to meet any real price pressure you put on them.
Go there to collaborate on making the best quality product possible and let the manufacturer feel a part of the success and a part of the team. Which also comes from time. Being there constantly. It was commented to me that by being there regularly rather than all the time meant the factory was focused on outcomes for your trips - yet never got to the point of thinking you would always be there.
You don't necessarily have to live on the doorstep of your factory to get great service - as long as you are there regularly enough building up that sense of relationship and team.
Yet no matter how good your relationship with your factory is and how well communicated your expectations - don't miss the step of externally quality controlling your products before they leave the factory.
In manufacturing there are always decisions on the quality of the product and you need to make sure your standards are the deciding factor. Ultimately while it can become a team approach with your manufacturer, only you have 100 per cent of the interests of your product and end customers at heart.
Again, local knowledge through that network of Kiwi's abroad can help you identify a good QC partner too. We have a USA national based in China, Kristie Renaud, and her specially set up umbrella QC team doing the quality control for us.
China's potential as a market
China is definitely a country in change. Simply ask anyone that has been visiting there consistently over the past number of years. Six months and entire road networks can be built! The value of this market to NZ companies is considerable.
Again people often do not realize the buying power there. It surprises people when I tell them my espresso coffee can cost over NZ$10 there. Obviously this is at one extreme but this is a large extreme. We wanted to create an international brand before we looked at China. You need to be pretty careful about stepping into this market but it does hold huge potential and is one of the few markets where the price of our product is never questioned - because a higher price is an indication of status so you don't want to go into that market cheaply.
There is such potential there and NZ companies have a huge amount to offer - particularly in the areas of concern for the Chinese consumer. Awareness of quality and safety of food and health products is growing significantly and NZ is perfectly placed to capitalize on this. The rewards are significant to NZ if the internal challenges of China can be met.
A lot of people will set up their businesses while still in jobs. The question is, what size does their fledgling business have to be before they leave the safety of the salaried job? When is the time right? Email me, Gill South at the link below. Tell us your stories about when you took the leap: