Have you dreamed of having a product you designed manufactured? If so, you’re not alone. Many creative entrepreneurs come up with new product ideas. Taking those ideas from concept to actual product you see in stores, though, presents a series of significant challenges. That’s where Coley International comes in.
Coley International is a new consulting firm headed by Nichole Schneider, an experienced product developer, and sourcing specialist. With Coley, Schneider is focused on helping solo entrepreneurs and small business owners navigate the product manufacturing process from start to finish.
Working with small businesses
Schneider worked in sourcing and logistics for two decades, the last eight years with distributors and retailers in the quilting and sewing industry. It was during this time that she encountered many entrepreneurs who needed help turning their ideas into reality.
“I think that you really need to be able to turn to somebody to say is this a viable idea?” she says. “Will there be market acceptance? Maybe the idea is not ready yet, it still needs to be developed.”
That’s one of the primary questions she can help entrepreneurs think through. According to Schneider a key reason a lot of products fail is skipping this crucial step: assessing areas where a concept needs further development, design improvements, packaging refinements, or better marketing copy.
One encouraging development for entrepreneurs is that sourcing capabilities have really opened up over the last ten years. It used to be that you had to be a major player to bring a product to market, but that’s simply not the case anymore Schneider says. It’s possible now to source in smaller quantities and manufacturing is accessible to businesses of all sizes. The challenge lies in understanding how the system works.
Speaking the language of production
“When you look at sourcing sites like Alibaba, for example, you’re seeing really great images, but the reality is the image may not be what the factory is producing, and most of the time, it’s not even a factory that you’re talking to. You’re talking to a trading company and the trading companies get paid to find the factories and have the product sourced.” She says often on Alibaba, the seller is using an image that doesn’t belong to them at all, and, when you’re seeking the cheapest and fastest source, the trading company may be promising a product that they can’t realistically deliver.
Certain products are best sourced in certain countries, Schneider explains. For example, a country with a robust automotive industry is likely to have injection mold capabilities that allow you to create plastic hand tools. Schneider says she has connections with both trading companies and factories in China, Mexico, Colombia, Canada, and the US.
“Just being able to speak the language of production in different material types is so valuable,” Schneider says, especially once you’ve found a factory or trading company you trust. “Whether it’s plastic, silicone, cotton, or polyester, you need to have this knowledge base to know what is considered a good product or a standard product and what would be something that would have the appearance of what you’re looking for, but functionally not work.”
She’s also able to help clients access something called “open market goods,” commercially available generic products that factories are already producing and can be customized. This allows small businesses to white label products to sell under their own brand name.
For more unique products, Schneider can guide a client through the process of having a custom mold made. She also can provide assistance and sources for packaging and labeling.
When it comes to pricing, Schneider says it’s important to determine to do a market analysis in order to determine a “viable retail” price. Her process is to do research on all competing products in that category to understand the benefits of each one at each different price point. She uses that information to determine what the retail price should be for the product her client has in mind. “Then we can work backward to see if you’ll make any money producing the product and then selling it.”
“I’ve had so many people that have had great ideas for products, but they didn’t have all of their pricing in place, so the only way they could possibly sell this thing and make money would be direct-to-consumer. They wouldn’t be able to sell it at wholesale. They wouldn’t be able to sell it into a distributor.”
Overall, she says, when it comes to manufacturing a product, getting clear on your vision is really the most important step. “I think the biggest thing is people don’t always know what they want, or they’re not able to articulate what they want. She will work with clients to clearly describe the product, its materials, and market.
Schneider is excited to be striking out on her own after working within larger companies for so many years, although it’s definitely a different kind of relationship, both with entrepreneurs and with sources. “When you work for a large company, there are larger margin requirements that are necessary to bring things to market,” she explains. Being small allows for nimbleness. She’s also able to be very direct with clients. “When you work for yourself, you can kind of tell people exactly what you think without tiptoeing around. Sometimes people really just need to hear that, no, this idea is not feasible. Or there’s something that’s exactly like that. Are you sure that’s what you want to do?”
Abby co-founded Craft Industry Alliance and now serves as its president. She’s a sewing pattern designer, teacher, and journalist. She’s dedicated to creating an outstanding trade association for the crafts industry. Abby lives in Wellesley, Massachusetts.