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The 8 Questions to Ask (and a Reality Check for) Your Contract Manufacturer

By: Spencer Sheinin
Posted: August 2, 2013, from the January 2014 issue of GCI Magazine.

Have you ever wondered if there is a better contract manufacturer out there that would do more for your beauty brand, be a more collaborative partner for you and your team, and be great to work with? Every company has at least one supplier that’s a little difficult to deal with, or maybe your business has just changed so much over the last few years that it’s time to re-evaluate your manufacturing partners to make sure you’re getting the full bang for your buck.

Imagine yourself sitting in your conference room interviewing your contract manufacturer. How would they answer these questions if you asked?

1. Is Your Brand in the Top Quartile of the Manufacturer's Customer Base?

It’s important to work with manufacturing partners that swim in the same size pond as you do so you know you are a priority for them. Does the manufacturer respond to your needs fast enough? Does it have an account manager dedicated to your brand that you trust? Do you feel supported by the entire team with access beyond just your account manager (i.e., directly with R&D or quality control)?

A manufacturer that fits will focus a much larger portion of its resources on your business. Let’s face it, no one wants to be a supplier’s little fish, so find a manufacturer that makes you the big fish and get the attention you deserve.

2. Can the Manufacturer Provide Creative Solutions to Help Manage Rapid Changes In Demand?

An organized manufacturer can provide you with a detailed project timeline and offer suggestions for shortening lead times to help you get your product on shelves sooner. For example, component and material procurement can often be done during the product stability program, or blanket purchase orders can be placed to eliminate component and raw material lead times on subsequent orders. The experienced manufacturer can also outline the risks when double-tracking a project to help eliminate surprises.

3. Can the Manufacturer Help Ensure Your Brand Stays Compliant?

Some manufacturers only worry about their own regulatory compliance, but the best manufacturers will proactively work with you and your brand to provide labeling guidance, manage regulatory filings, and help navigate the sometimes-treacherous waters of the U.S. FDA and Health Canada. It can also aid your brand by providing assistance with audits and technical reviews of label and marketing claims, as well as managing a long-term stability program for your brand.

These top manufacturers also tend to be on—or better yet, leading—industry committees that are often in direct contact with the governing agencies, which puts them “inside the tent” with regulatory updates, including monograph and GMP compliance.

4. Does the Manufacturer Have a Metric for Measuring Lab Sample Turnaround Time?

A strong manufacturing partner measures its sample turnaround time and constantly looks for ways to be faster, because it understands how important it is to move quickly with new launches. For example, fast-acting manufacturers will have a program in place with material suppliers to expedite raw materials for product samples.

5. Does the Manufacturer Present Unsolicited Concepts and Industry Trend Information?

A manufacturer that is well connected to the industry should have no problem becoming your “formula guy.” The manufacturer's staff should be regularly presenting new technologies and trend information to help you keep your customers engaged and to keep you ahead of your competition.

It should also be able to help you flex these new technologies and product concepts so they fit seamlessly into your product mix.

6. If You Called the Manufacturer's Three Biggest Accounts, What Would They Say?

A confident manufacturer should be proud to have people reach out to its top accounts for a reference. This may not always work, as many brands build strict confidentiality agreements into their business relationships with their manufacturers, but when a brand truly enjoys working with its manufacturing partner, they’re often willing to provide a reference in a discrete, non-public way.

7. How Does the Manufacturer Ensure a Successful Product Launch?

An organized manufacturer should be able to easily provide you with an standard operating procedure (SOP) or standard documented process of how it launches a product within the company. If it cannot, this can often indicate that the manufacturer is running solely on experience. While experience is great, nothing beats a nice tidy process to go along with it—as long as your manufacturer recognizes the need for agility and flexibility.

8. What is the Manufacturer's Internal Communication System to Address Priority Issues?

A great company, manufacturing or otherwise, has a daily scheduled huddle to keep communication flowing between the team members. In contract manufacturing, this is an excellent opportunity to get sales, technical, R&D, quality control and operations together to make sure projects are staying on track. It also ensures project updates are constantly being fed back to the customer.

Reality Check: Things Happen

Any manufacturer that tells you that production always goes smoothly is either lying or new to manufacturing. Ask the manufacturer when they dealt with their last product recall. A confident and transparent manufacturer will share its last recall with you. It should be able to easily articulate corrective actions and can demonstrate that it has not happened again.

If you’re not sure how your manufacturer would answer these questions, maybe it’s time to ask. If the company comes up a bit short on any of these questions, it’s possible there may be a better partner out there for you. One that will work with you to help you take your brand to the next level, and one that will invest the time in making your business their business.

Spencer Sheinin is the president of Norwood Manufacturing. Norwood is a custom formula developer and contract manufacturer for complex skin care products. It is US FDA labeler code licensed for OTC, as well as Health Canada drug establishment licensed and site licensed for natural health products. Reach Sheinin at spencer@norwoodpackaging.com.