Why did you chose your Chinese manufacturer?
We initially looked into the idea of NZ-made. But we quickly realised that even as a niche player, our projected volumes demanded a bigger set up than we would be capable of here. By using a manufacturer that has been ensconced in the industry for so long - we hugely benefit from their experience and their access to the raw materials needed. Replicating that is near on impossible.
The factory we ended up partnering with was setup in the early 90s by a high quality German umbrella company. The factory is now owned and operated by a Taiwanese company. This particular factory is very highly regarded in the umbrella industry with the facilities and a skill set to allow constant development with our innovative designs ensuring the highest quality can be achieved.
How did you find your manufacturer?
The good old Kiwi way. By talking and asking we found David Haythornthwaite, a Kiwi living in China, who has many years of experience with manufacturers up there. We could easily identify umbrella manufacturers from NZ - that isn't a problem. The issue is identifying which ones are the quality manufacturers. By talking and working with David we found exactly the manufacturer we needed. Not the largest but an owner that was willing to invest time and effort on what at the time was a new and pretty much untried idea.
What does Blunt do about quality assurance?
In my belief, ultimately, the major way to ensure quality is about investing time and trust with the one manufacturer. Constantly swapping your manufacturer to chase a price is never going to get you in a place where you will get the product you need. We realised early, and were constantly advised, that it's about building relationships. You can't build relationships if the focus is price. We ensure our focus is quality and supporting us with good production lead times. In addition to this, we also contract an independent QC team to check each umbrella before it leaves the factory.
How does Blunt manage the relationship?
By building up air points! We spend quite a lot of time visiting the factory. At least six to eight visits per year. Sometimes more. And we are in constant communication. We Skype with them almost daily. We have work in progress reporting weekly. And they know we are loyal - so they return that loyalty. It is all about the relationship, as well as their abilities, and you can't have a loyal relationship if they know you are two timing them!
Over time the relationship forms and the trust builds. Our factory owner is Taiwanese and has visited us here in NZ for a holiday with his wife. This Christmas, I am visiting Taiwan with my family and will be spending some time with him and his wife over that time.
Can you offer any tips to other companies at the beginning stages of manufacturing / their journey?
Talk to other Kiwis. Use the Kiwi network that already exists. It is so much easier if someone else has vetted the factory for you and has had a good experience with it.
Secondly, while you can conduct business remotely, jumping on a plane and visiting them is the start of building that really important relationship. And finally it comes down to your attitude. Why are you going there? At the beginning of our journey into China manufacturing we talked with two older Chinese businessmen. They mentioned if you go there for price you will always get your price - but at what cost? Our attitude is we have gone there for their experience and access to the materials we need. Something that would have been almost impossible to replicate here. They have the set up and we really do benefit from that - including all the testing facilities they have in-house. They know we are there for quality so that is what we all focus on. So what you go there focusing on is likely what you will get. And everyone needs to benefit from the relationship. Them as much as you do.
Next week: Many small businessses are extremely proud of their company culture and it's something they establish very early on. But what happens when your company gets bigger and the boss gets spread ever thinner. How do you protect and continue to nurture that small business culture?