B2B or not 2B? Wetting beak in manufacture.
July 5, 2012 1:50 AM   Subscribe

New to manufacturing. How do I go from making things to having something made?

A couple years ago, I developed a line of notebooks to address the shortcomings I saw in existing products. They were handmade, but I only did that out of necessity. Now I'd like to have them manufactured in quantity.

I'm familiar with some of the basics of binding (through experience in graphic design, and the primitive techniques I used while making them myself), but I've never had blank books made, or sought out any kind of manufacturer.

When I say I made them, I mean I cut the stock with an X-Acto knife, clamped them individually, glued the spines, attached the covers and closures, and clamped them again. So there is some leeway in what manufacturing entails -- whether it meant renting access to some cutting or binding equipment, getting certain stages of the process done and doing the rest myself (or sending them elsewhere to be completed), or getting them made somewhere from top to bottom. I just need to make it more practical to continue selling these.

I'm in the Los Angeles area.
posted by evil holiday magic to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (4 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
This is what Alibaba is for. They're mostly Chinese, but you can get in touch with just about any factory over there and get just about anything made, for the right price.

The only drawback I can see here is quantity. You may find that a lot of the suppliers have significant minimum order requirements. The minimum orders I see in the notebook suppliers mostly range from 1,000 to 10,000 units. There are one or two in the 300-500 range, but most seem to be between 1,000-5,000. If you're currently making the things by hand, I can't imagine your volume is anywhere near even the low end of that.

But that's going to be an issue even if you go with someone local. Possibly even more so. I have some friends who self-publish with a print-on-demand company. Their margins are incredibly low, because the cost per unit for print-on-demand services is very high. But no printer is willing to talk to them about doing a full run of their books for less than $10,000-12,000. Economies of scale are a real thing.
posted by valkyryn at 4:02 AM on July 5, 2012

Best answer: Make vs. buy .

If the decision is "make":

Establish probable volumes and related gross profits. (IME, amend these for excessive optimism on both.)

Select a desired rate of return. (Prime lending rate x (a nonzero positive integer multiplier of your choice))

Calculate how much capital investment this will support.
Compare this to available capital.
If requirement exceeds available, reduce desired rate of return or give up.

Lease equipment.
Make product.
Sell it.

Using proceeds from sale, pay fixed expenses and expand sales.

When gross profits permit, staff the process with someone other than you. (Expect infinite problems associated with maintaining a workforce, navigating regulations, retention and happiness of workforce. )

At this point, the process is self-sustainable.

Drive down unit costs to increase margins. (Employ make-method A versus make-method B analysis to wisely choose alternatives.)

At a point TBD, variable costs will become an asymptote where little additional margin can be eaked out regardless of capital investments. At this point, re-engineering emerges as the best bet, i.e., Problem redefinition, design constraints on possible solutions, economic evaluation of solution spaces, etc.

By this time, you are a manufacturer with a substantial skill set and can leverage that skill set to other product(s).

At any point, dynamic factors can implode all of your work to date. (These might include technology changes, office fires, Chinese competitors, Android, iPaper, pencil shortages, Armageddon/Rapture, disinterest, zoning, allergies.)


Eventually, die or sell off business.

That's really all there is to it. YMMV.

IANYME (I am not your manufacturing engineer).
OIWAMEBNIMMLAAPDGSIED (Once I was a manufacturing engineer but now i make my living as a product design guy specializing in electronic devices).

posted by FauxScot at 7:02 AM on July 5, 2012 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks!

Good stuff so far.

Any recommendations as far as local resources to get part of the way there?

Capital is limited to what I have or can raise via Kickstarter and the like. I'm resourceful and a quick study, so I'd be prepared to continue part of this via my own methods, adding in, say, an expedited step in cutting the stock, prefolding covers, etc.

In that vein, who would I contact, for instance, about accessing/leasing/borrowing the sort of shear (or whatever is appropriate) I'd need, locally?

I appreciate the help. Not looking for a magic bullet, and willing to put the work in.
posted by evil holiday magic at 1:51 PM on July 5, 2012

Best answer: Using a contractor is where it's at. Check out Pinball Publishing. Sounds like they do the sort of thing you're into. They're based in Portland however. If you want local, start searching for printers in the LA area and talk to them about your needs. I'm sure there are a ton of them there...
posted by alpinist at 10:37 PM on July 5, 2012

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