15 Things I Learned While Starting Up my Fabric Business
I've launched my fabric store! While I'm still learning the ropes I wanted to share some of the things I've learned over the last 4 months. I'm sourcing fabric, but I think these lessons could be true for most products being sourced from a manufacturer. Keep in mind these are just my opinions and I'm only speaking from my experience.
1. However long you think it'll take to get a product manufactured, double it. Samples, strike offs, communication, production, quality control checks, and shipping all take longer than you would expect. I went in thinking it would take 2 months from the time a sales rep said they would send me samples to when I would receive my fabric. This is more like 3-4 months depending on if there are strike offs or not. Delays could come from multiple changes on a print, the base fabric for the printers could be out of stock, the fabric could fail quality control, it could get held up by the finance department or your sales rep may just be very unresponsive. There are a lot of reasons things take longer than expected. Do yourself a favor and just double how long you think a product will take.
2. I can't speak for everyone, but so far the manufacturers that have a really high minimum order will allow you to order a half or sample lot. If they don't mention it, then ask. You will have to pay a surcharge for anything smaller than their minimum.
3. It's up to you to keep track of when a fabric/product is supposed to be ready and how much you ordered. Some sales reps won't proactively tell you there is a delay. You need to follow up and keep following up until they respond. The manufacturer can also short your order without warning or any explanation. Keep track of everything.
4. Get everything in writing. This can be quoted shipping costs, timeline, quantities, surcharges, if anything is discussed on the phone or in person just send an email with everything in writing. That doesn't mean everything discussed is set in stone, but it may be helpful to refer to.
5. You can be given a quote but that price can change based on the color you select. Ask for a quote based on the exact color you want.
6. Sales reps typically don't give you any information you don't ask for. Payment terms, freight set up, timelines, certifications, fabric specifications. If you want to know something, you have to ask. Sometimes you have to ask several times.
7. Do not bury questions in an email. Bullet them or number them. Make it obvious or they will often go unanswered.
8. Look into getting an email with your domain name. Using gmail, yahoo, or aol can get your emails flagged as spam. I've gone to spam while emailing manufacturers with a gmail account, and if you plan on sending out customer newsletters some platforms will not let you use a gmail/yahoo/aol email address.
9. I have sourced fabric from 4 different companies and all 4 had different payment terms. I've paid before the shipment was sent to me, the day after a shipment, 30 days after the shipment, and 50% before they began manufacturing and the rest before they shipped (which means I paid 50% about 3 months before I received the fabric..which can tie up your money). If money is very tight I would suggest to ask their terms before placing the order.
10. Some manufacturers still want checks. When I set up my business bank account I didn't get checks, but I definitely need them. Checks can also delay shipment if they require the check to clear before shipment (the finance department does not always deposit the check quickly).
11. You may need to find and set up an account with a freight company, or at least set up an account with UPS/Fed Ex. I've experienced the following: 1. I chose a freight company, and the freight company called my manufacturer to discuss weight, dimensions and pick up time. 2. The manufacturer shipped via UPS on their account and I reimbursed them. 3. I arranged everything and scheduled UPS on my account (the manufacturer gave me weight and dimensions prior).
12. Freight companies can send you a bill weeks after your product was delivered. The freight company needs the exact weight to determine the shipping class. Make sure the manufacturer gives you the exact weight and dimensions. You will receive an additional bill if they low ball the weight.
13. Sometimes a freight company will call you to schedule the delivery date and sometimes they just show up. Also, if you do not have a guaranteed delivery date then your product may sit in a warehouse in your city for days until they get someone to deliver it. I actually prefer UPS when it is an option. Mainly because my UPS man is a delight.
14. You will spend a lot more money than you expected. Enough said. There are a lot of surprises when it comes to starting a business. For instance, to register my business in the state of Nebraska I had to pay to put an announcement in the newspaper.
15. Think long are hard about why you want to start a business. You have to be passionate about the product. The book Start With the Why by Simon Sinek talks about this (I read it for free from the library). Also, Mimi G has a podcast that I like and find inspiring. I'm a little behind on her episodes but I really enjoyed Season 1.
In 4 months that's what I've learned so far. What to know more? I'm writing a series on everything I've dealt with from start till present. I'm just an introvert who doesn't like to do a bunch of research before I jump in. I've made some mistakes and I hope you can learn from them.