Last week as my plane touched down on the Sydney runway, these words came to mind: What would have happened if I didn’t go??
I had just returned after a week long trip to our factory in China and felt relieved that I had been able to go during production of our first order. For us, this first shipment is the culmination of a year long gestation, these are not just our products, they are our babies. Over the course of the development we have discovered, overcome, solved and circumnavigated many “issues”. Over the year I have pictured the container arriving many times, whenever I see the freight trains pulling their haul across the tracks I silently remind myself “one day one of those will be coming for me.” But, the thought that follows is “what if it goes wrong?”
You see, many companies manufacture in far away countries, they design, they pay, they send their money and then they wait…. Sometimes the stock arrives just perfect and all is good, sometimes not so good. For a large company it is possible to accept some mishaps and know that the business will continue onwards. For us, as a fresh, tiny business it’s a risk we can’t afford to take.
When I decided to make the trip I was hoping I’d come home and say “well that was a waste of time!” I was hoping that everything would go smoothly and I’d wonder why I was ever worried in the first place. Of course, that isn’t quite what happened.
There were a fair few 'surprises'.
When I really think it through, they were almost all things that most people wouldn’t pick up except Jess and I but that just doesn’t make it ok! I’ll tell you one: we have stickers that go on the box to show the colour of the locker inside. Five colours were perfect but one was not. Would it really have mattered? Well maybe not much but for us the details count. We want our customers to know that we’re making good stuff, that we are paying attention to the small things and that kind of thinking runs through the business at every level. Having a slightly off colour label may not win us or loose us sales but it’s a small detail that we could easily get right and not doing so would feel like laziness.
Being able to see every element of our product in person has given me great insight and understanding that will really guide our design and manufacturing in the future. By understand how, where and by who it’s made it can guide what we see as possible. One little example is that when we first started this journey I asked whether it was possible to have the insides of the lockers a different colour from the outside (wouldn’t that be cool?) but now I’ve seen the enormous powder coating machines I understand that was a really dumb question! Given the way they are hung and sprayed that just isn’t possible.
Going to the factory myself also builds trust. Something that is often overlooked is that trust goes both ways. Just as I may have been unsure about sending big chunks of money to a factory in China, they would also be unsure about ordering all the materials and then producing all those products for some person in Australia. We both need to have some faith in the integrity of each other for the deal to work. Human to human, relationships are built. The hospitality I was shown was overwhelming and this trip really made me fall more in love with the huge, ancient, complex country that is China.
Now I'm back home and waiting (impatiently) for our container to get here I feel pretty confident that there aren't any surprises left!