By Li Zhang
If you’re working on a custom project, here is a basic step-by-step guide on some key phases in making custom samples.
Step 1: Detail Supplier from the Beginning
From the beginning, insert into the dialogue with the supplier that you require making custom samples.
When it comes time to actually making the pieces, this early alert helps avoid any stalling from the supplier.
This is so the supplier can start checking for material availability and other custom requirements.
They can let you know, sooner than later, what’s possible.
Step 2: Artwork/Spec Sheet for Making Custom Samples
Send artwork and specs over to the vendor and make sure they carefully analyze the files.
A good use of your time is to choose some key points of the artwork and specs and then go over those points with the supplier. This assures everyone’s on the same page in interpreting the artwork.
More resources on artwork in China promotional product manufacturing download this resource: Logo Merchandise
Step 3: Reconfirm Price for Samples
Assume the quoted sample fee is not exact. Once you send the artwork/specs, the supplier knows you are serious about moving forward with samples and the supplier takes time to really analyze all the details.
Step 4: Determine Timing
Consider the supplier low-balled you on timing. They will not fully know timing until they analyze the detail packet from Step 2 above.
When making custom samples, if your timing is not top-urgent, remind the supplier not to rush the process.
Suppliers start out from the assumption that everything is to be rushed.
Step 5: Payment
Now it’s time to start sample production.
Find out the payment process for the samples. The supplier may not charge you for the samples but expect you to cover the freight, ie use your own international FedEx or UPS account.
Keep in mind a few points:
• A supplier who doesn’t charge for samples has less incentive to get the samples right.
• A supplier who does charge for samples, does not mean the samples are going to be exactly right the first time.
• If the supplier charges for sampling, it can be a pain because of bank fees, but is a necessary evil. Consider if you are a new customer, do you make free custom samples for buyers you don’t not know?
• If you frequently work with the same vendor, consider working out paying for samples in batch payments. This will save on the bank wire fees. Many suppliers and customers are now using Western Union.
Step 6: Photos
Assuming the payment was processed and the supplier starts making custom samples, obtain photos at key points.
2 key photo grabs should be:
• during the process.
• before the samples are sent.
During the process is good in case you can catch any errors and also, it’s good documentation to keep on file.
Before the samples are sent, it’s good to see the item in case you can pinpoint something that is not right and the supplier can amend before sending.
Do not provide your express account detail until you see photos. This should be a clause in your sample invoice and it will make the supplier send clear, detailed photos.
Step 7: Tracking #
Assuming the photos were sent and the samples are ready to go, have the supplier provide you with the tracking #. Once you have the tracking, check the status of the package every morning first thing.
Step 8: Samples Arrive
Let the vendor know once you receive the samples. Unless there is something majorly wrong, hold off on comments.
Avoid sending an email saying the samples look great and then a few days later an email comes with a list of issues.
Hold the comments until you are able to clearly analyze the pieces and then update the supplier in 1 wave.
If problems are found in the sample: take detailed photos and send an update. If you see hope of working through the problems, be as specific as possible with mocked-up photos and pointed comments. Use visuals when possible.
Step 9: Signoff
Assuming the samples are accepted, send your vendor an email saying that just as plain as day as possible – “The samples were confirmed, please get ready for production and we are sending the deposit”.
If there are specific good points on the samples you wish the vendor to note and for sure keep in the mass production, point those out.
For more on the sampling process in the promotional product industry, here’s another helpful post: