The Cost of Sample Making

Samples are single products which are sent from a manufacturer or supplier to a designer or brand to represent the size, look and quality of the products they will receive if they place a full order. Getting sample products made before you produce any product in large quantities is essential to ensure the desired product is of good quality and design. The main objective of getting a sample is to alleviate risk by giving the designer an understanding of what they will receive for their payment. Once you have the sample made, you can then examine it and see if any revisions need to be made before going into full production on your line. Sometimes buyers will request samples from a number of manufacturers and suppliers in order to compare and contrast offerings.

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All designers need samples, but the question many designers will ask themselves is “should I pay for samples?” The debate surrounding the provision, payment, and delivery of samples is a longstanding one. The answer to this question is really both yes and no. It is completely situational and depends on your product and the kind of materials and designs you are working with.

From a designer’s perspective, many believe that the cost of sampling should be covered by the supplier as a legitimate and necessary marketing cost and, therefore, come at no cost to the designer or buyer. Designers need to verify a product’s form and quality in order to make an informed decision regarding an entire order. However, this is not always realistic for suppliers and manufacturers.

However, from a manufacturer or supplier’s perspective, they send samples to a buyer in the hope that the buyer will find them acceptable and end up placing an order. Many suppliers feel unequipped to continually absorb the costs of creating patterns and samples for prospective clients without knowing if an order is backing it up. There is the question and risk of not knowing whether someone is a genuine buyer, a price-checker (a supplier’s own competitors), or “shopping around” with various suppliers.

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When you should expect to pay for samples:

  • Prototype Sample:

If you are creating samples for original designs that require a customized pattern and sample, such as the creation of a mold, pattern, or printing screen, you should expect to have to pay for the sample. Most suppliers will note that the cost is a one-time fee, or offer to deduct the amount from a future purchase order if you decide to do business together.

  • Pre-Production Sample: 

This type of sample is to prove the pattern, cost and consistency in production. The prices range, and depending on the labor involved, may be the same cost as the production run unit cost.

  • Production Sample:

 Also called the “top of the order” sample, this is the final approved version of a product before going into the mass order.

  • When you are a new client: 

Often, suppliers will gladly make free samples for a known brand or previous client, but will charge for new clients or unknown brands just as a precaution to make sure you are an authentic company and truly invested in the production of your item or line. Moreover, if you end up producing with that manufacturer, you will often not have to pay for future samples once you have an established and trusted relationship with them. Similarly, if you have already submitted a purchase order, the supplier should be more willing to provide low cost / free samples. However, this does not mean that mold fees and other set-up costs will be waived.

  • When it is expensive: 
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Many suppliers operate on tight margins and cannot afford to cover your initial production costs. This is especially true with lower-volume orders.

  • When you are not going into production: 

Sounds obvious, but if you are coming to a manufacturer for a sample, but do not plan on going into production, expect to pay for the sample.

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Samples that are typically available for free:

  • Generic materials, fabric samples, products the supplier has already previously made, or a product sample that does not require any customization such as molds or printing. However, shipping costs for free samples and materials usually falls on the potential buyer. Maker’s Row Sourcing Specialist, Liz Long, recommends setting up UPS and DHL accounts before you begin the sourcing process. That way you already have the numbers ready so suppliers can bill shipments directly to your account. Some suppliers also accept Paypal to cover shipping costs, although this is not as common.

Benefits to creating a sample:

If you are looking to find a manufacturer to eventually produce a full line, many designers would recommend paying for samples. Here are some of their reasons why this is a good idea:

  1. You will be taken more seriously as a brand and set yourself apart from those who are merely shopping around. Suppliers will be more invested in making a sample for you if they know you are committed and not going to abandon the project or go elsewhere.

  1. You will own the sample. If you haven’t paid for your patterns and samples, it is technically not your property and you have no rights to them. A supplier could easily start using the patterns and samples they made for you.

  2. You will be able to make a precise sample. Paying for your own patterns and samples will give you more control over the process overall. If you’ve paid for a sample and it does not meet your expectations or was done incorrectly, you have full right to have it redone until it is done right. However, you may still have to pay for the revisions if it was not previously agreed upon.

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In general, if you are thinking about working with a certain manufacturer, it is a good idea to start off doing a sample with them before going ahead with an entire production order. This way you can examine specs and quality and make sure they meet your expectations before you spend money on the full order. It’s worth it to pay “extra” for a sample upfront than to risk wasting money if an entire order goes wrong or is not what you expect. Some designers see this as a development cost of production for their line and a way of protecting themselves from risk. Make sure to see a physical version of your product in person: if your manufacturer sends a picture of your sample and it looks good, you should always ask for them to send you the sample so that you can review and examine it in person.

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