The Right Way To Check References

Checking references is a crucial part of the supplier vetting process. I’m always surprised at how many people fail to ask for them, or take the step to request references, but then don’t actually follow up and call! This an omission you can’t afford to make when deciding to work with a new factory, especially since interviewing references is a free, simple way to learn more about potential partners.

Here are 5 tips when requesting references from potential suppliers:

1) Ask For Multiple References, Not Just One

A good supplier should have more than one person willing to vouch for them. When asking for references, make it clear you’d like to speak with a few people. If they only send you a single reference, ask why this is the case, and politely let the supplier know you’d feel more comfortable hearing from multiple sources. If they avoid answering the question and seem unable to come up with alternate references, this may be a sign that another partner is a better fit.

2) Request References In Your Product Category

It’s best if you can speak to a past or present client who made a product similar to yours. For example, if you are launching a line of blazers and interviewing cut and sew factories, ask if they have any references for clients who have also completed orders for blazers. This is not always possible due to privacy concerns, however it’s still a good idea to ask, as you’ll receive insight into how the factory handles a specific product line.

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3) Set Up A Phone Call, Not Just An Email

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Speaking on the phone can give you a more nuanced picture of how the reference feels about the factory. Maybe they provide a solid endorsement, but when you bring up the issue of meeting delivery deadlines, they make a joke about the factory always being late. This is information that you want to know! A phone call is usually more data rich than an email because of the multiple layers of communication (tone, pauses, offhand comments etc).

4) Include The Following Questions

First, it’s a good idea to write down your questions in advance so that you don’t forget something important. Everyone will have different questions based on their product type, past history, goals etc. but here are some that are universally helpful:

  • “How long have you worked with the factory?” (If it’s a very short amount of time, the answers they provide are only so valuable)
  • “Have you had any quality problems with the factory, and if so, what did they do to remedy the problem?”
  • “Has your pricing changed over time, and if so, why?”
  • “Does the factory consistently meet the deadlines that you set together? If not, why?”

5)  Remember To See The Big Picture

Not all the information you receive from a reference is a yes/no data point in terms of deciding to work with a factory or not. Let’s go back to the previously mentioned comment about the factory sometimes being late. You may still decide to move forward with this partner, despite the report of delays. After all, no business is perfect and sometimes things come up.

The important thing is that you are now informed so that you can prepare for the relationship in the best way possible. If you know the factory you’ve selected occasionally runs behind schedule, you may build extra time into your production calendar, never over-promise dates to your customers, and make a habit of checking in with the factory regularly so that are you never in the dark about changing timelines. These are all things that will make your business run more smoothly.

Need help finding, vetting and negotiating with suppliers? As the in-house Sourcing Specialist at Maker’s Row, I can help you with this and more! Learn about one-on-one support here.


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