If this where your product was being made you probably wouldn't be too happy...

Can I Get Screwed by a Supplier?

That’s not really the correct question. The correct question is “Will I screw myself? Possibly. In reality you are trying to make money, you want to get a product at a low price, mark it up and re-sell it for a profit, that’s how the world works. Guess what, your supplier is doing the same thing. They are taking materials, adding labor, marking it up and selling it to you, for a profit.
I don’t normally watch Shark Tank but I was visiting my mother and she loves it and it’s her T.V. The show was a rerun but a woman that was pitching a shirt she had invented was getting grilled on her numbers by Mark Cuban. She then admitted that her problem was caused by an “untrustworthy manufacturer” that gave her bad product. I wonder if that was actually true.

I find that a lot of these types of issues come up not because the supplier produced faulty product, but because there was a lack of direction. A simple example I recently encountered was a small local manufacturer was getting some plastic pieces made overseas and one piece didn’t fit the final assembly very well, causing other problems. The client had simply given the manufacturer a sketch of the profile and what kind of material to use. The piece was very inexpensive so there was not much thought given to it. The trouble was that the piece was curling while it was cooling and really needed a cooling fixture to keep it straight. This of course would have added to the production cost so the manufacturer skipped this to keep his margin. If the client stated upfront that the piece had to remain perfectly flat the manufacturer would have probably suggested different material to avoid curling while keeping cost low. A little more direction from the client would have avoided 50,000 pieces that “kind of” fit.

So, did the woman with the shirt really have an “untrustworthy manufacturer”? Knowing that any supplier wants to see a new product be a success so they will have years of orders, I would say probably not. My guess is that she left some design or material details out of the order and the manufacturer tried to make it work. If she had been there as the first pieces were coming off the line any issues that arose could have been addressed immediately and she would probably still be using that supplier today. That is a much better outcome than getting grilled on T.V. about why your sales are going down while saying it’s not your fault.

Kyle Albinus - Quality Engineer