Supplier and Manufacturer Guide: What to Look for, What You’ll Need, and Where to Find Suppliers and Manufacturers

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When you’re running an ecommerce business, you need reliable suppliers and manufacturers to help you maintain seamless supply chain operations. That’s why you need to pay extra close attention to the sourcing process so you can identify reliable and long-term partners.

In this guide, we walk you through the process of finding suppliers and manufacturers for your business. Let’s jump in.

What is the difference between a supplier and a manufacturer?

The main difference between a supplier and a manufacturer is that the supplier sells products to other businesses such as retailers and vendors whereas the manufacturer produces the products. In other words, the manufacturer creates the goods, which the supplier then supplies in bulk for other businesses to sell to end consumers. 

In some cases, the manufacturer also acts as a supplier and sells the products directly to retailers and vendors. Additionally, suppliers in the manufacturing industry also supply raw materials and parts to manufacturers instead of selling finished products to retail businesses.

Supplier and manufacturer quick reference guide

TypeOverviewRed FlagsGreen Flags
SupplierSupplies to other businesses– Lack of communication
– Quality concerns
– Prone to mistakes
– Late deliveries
– Lack of compliance
– Lack of transparency
– Overpriced
– Relevant and up-to-date quality certifications
– Strategically located
– Competitive pricing
– Financially stable
– Maintains transparency
– Capability to scale
– Credibility in the industry
– Offers flexibility
– Delivers on time
– Quality customer service
TypeOverviewRed FlagsGreen Flags
ManufacturerManufacturers the product– Lack of communication
– Lack of necessary certifications
– Requires upfront payment
– Lack of transparency
– Lack of flexibility
– No dedicated point of contact
– Possesses necessary expertise
– Maintains quality standards consistently
– Credibility in the industry
– Good communication and transparency
– Competitive pricing
– Offers flexibility

What you need to know about finding a supplier

The product sourcing process is a bit more complicated than reaching out to just any random supplier. You need to take an organized approach that will allow you to narrow down suppliers that fit your needs.

What you need first

Before reaching out to a supplier, make sure you’re prepared with the following information.

List of supplies

Have a list of everything that you’ll need from the supplier–whether it’s the items from your product range or the components you need to manufacture a product. Make sure the supplier can accommodate all your supply needs before you decide to work with them.

Your budget

Clearly outline how much you can afford to spend on the supplies. Include an estimate of the expected cost per unit and the maximum you’re willing to spend after negotiations.

Questions for your potential supplier

Be prepared to ask important questions that will help you narrow down your selection. Make sure you’re asking questions related to lead times, minimum order quantities, setup fees, sustainability practices, defect policies, shipping methods, and shipping costs among many others.

End goal

What do you want to achieve through your partnership with the supplier? Don’t forget to clearly specify your end goal so you can easily identify a supplier who can help you achieve it.

What to look for in a supplier

When choosing a supplier, make sure they meet the following criteria:

  • They’re certified to your quality standards and their certifications are up to date.
  • The geo-political climate in their region is stable.
  • They’re financially stable and aren’t at risk of unexpectedly going out of business.
  • You’re capable of managing the weather-related risks that are typical in their region.
  • They give you visibility into their inventory information.
  • They have the capacity to scale with you.
  • Many other businesses (particularly in your industry) are vouching for them.
  • They can accommodate your payment requirements.
  • They have a solid track record of making timely deliveries. 
  • You can trust them to provide quality customer service.

Supplier red flags

Alternatively, the following signs may be an indicator for a potentially risky supplier partnership:

  • They don’t communicate and/or are difficult to reach.
  • Their product quality is declining or not up to par.
  • They regularly make mistakes (delivering incorrect or defective items).
  • They’re constantly late with deliveries.
  • They don’t maintain compliance.
  • They’re reluctant to share information such as financial records and delivery or lead-time data.
  • Their products and services are overpriced.

Where to find suppliers

A simple Google search can sometimes reveal leading suppliers for the products you need. Referrals from other businesses in your industry is also a great idea.

To expand your options, you could also go through online directories like Thomasnet, Kompass, Aliexpress, IndiaMART, and Alibaba and get access to thousands of suppliers from around the world.

What you need to know about finding a manufacturer

Just like with sourcing suppliers, you can’t reach out to just any manufacturer without a clear goal or idea of what you want. Taking an organized approach will make it easier to streamline your search and narrow down the right manufacturers for your products.

What you need first

Before reaching out to a manufacturer, be prepared with the following details.

Clear vision and descriptive drawings

Make sure to start with a clear vision and communicate your idea through descriptive drawings, so the manufacturer can assess whether they can make your product. Don’t forget to include comprehensive instructions on how the product should be developed. Include reference photos if possible so you can communicate your vision even more clearly. 

Prototype(s)

Although it can get slightly expensive, having a prototype ready is a great way to bring your vision to life. This can prevent miscommunication and ensure that prospective manufacturers know exactly how the product should be built.

Budget

What does your budget look like? Consider additional cost factors related to logistics, shipping, and storage so you can realistically determine how much you’re willing to spend on manufacturing. 

Timeline

One crucial aspect to consider is the manufacturing timeline. You have to make sure that you can seamlessly restock your inventory so that customers can receive their orders on time. Having a fair idea of the expected production timeline will help you assess whether a manufacturer’s typical lead times will work for you. 

End goal

What do you want to achieve through your partnership with the manufacturer? Clearly define your end goal so that you can easily identify manufacturers who can help you achieve it.

What to look for in a manufacturer

When selecting a manufacturer to work with, make sure they meet the following criteria:

  • They have the capability and expertise to produce the kind of products you want.
  • They consistently maintain quality across various aspects of their operation.
  • Other clients in your industry are vouching for them.
  • They’re easy to communicate with and keep you in the loop through the various stages of design and manufacturing.
  • They offer competitive pricing.
  • They have the flexibility to accommodate your needs–whether it’s in terms of custom orders or payment terms.

Manufacturer red flags

On the flip side, be on the lookout for the following signs that could indicate that a manufacturer might not make a good partner:

  • They don’t have the necessary or up-to-date quality certifications.
  • They’re difficult to communicate with and/or don’t communicate on time.
  • They’re asking for an upfront payment.
  • They lack transparency and refuse to share important information such as a costed bill of materials.
  • They don’t offer much flexibility. For example, they may not be willing to explore sourcing alternatives if their current raw materials supplier isn’t the right fit for you.
  • They don’t have a dedicated point of contact such as a program management team to work with you.

Where to find a manufacturer

Google searches and referrals can sometimes reveal reliable manufacturers in your industry. To further explore more options, you can also check out online directories such as Alibaba, Maker’s Row, and MFG.

What is the next step?

Once you have your suppliers and manufacturers sorted, the next step is to develop a distribution and fulfillment strategy. With the rise of omnichannel retail, you’ll likely want to sell your products through multiple sales channels. Make sure you have a solid omnichannel fulfillment strategy to seamlessly process and fulfill orders coming from all those channels.

That’s where ShipBob comes in with a world-leading omnichannel fulfillment solution that will help you gain a competitive edge. The ShipBob software integrates with leading ecommerce platforms and marketplaces, so orders are automatically received and processed as soon as they’re placed on those sales channels.

Our fulfillment team then begins the fulfillment process, quickly picking and packing orders so they can get out the door faster. With ShipBob, you can streamline and optimize your entire fulfillment process and deliver a seamless customer experience. 

Get started with ShipBob

Interested in learning more about ShipBob? Request a quote below to connect with our team.

Supplier and manufacturer FAQs

Below are answers to the most common questions about suppliers and manufacturers.

What is an example of a supplier?

A company that sells microprocessors to a laptop manufacturer is an example of a supplier.

What is the difference between a supplier and a distributor?

A supplier sells products to another business, which will then sell the product to the end customer. Meanwhile, a distributor sells the products to the final customer. 

How can ShipBob help with supplying, manufacturing, and distribution?

ShipBob’s B2B fulfillment solution allows businesses to strategically distribute and deliver their products to leading big box retailers. This helps you streamline your operations once the manufacturing and supplying processes are completed. 

Written By:

Meredith is a Content Marketing Specialist at ShipBob, where she writes articles, eGuides, and other resources to help growing ecommerce businesses master their logistics and fulfillment.

Read all posts written by Meredith Flora