Even in capital-intensive industries, you might be able to start a company with just a few thousand dollars—if you can establish good relationships with your manufacturers. Myriam Belzile-Maguire says managing production with suppliers and factories was one of the most challenging parts of launching her Montreal-based shoe brand, Maguire.
Maguire makes European-style leather shoes, the kind that Myriam dreamed of designing from a young age. She studied industrial design in Canada, honed her craft in Milan and London, and worked for some of the biggest shoe brands. When she received a $15,000 bonus from work, she decided to quit immediately and start her own shoe company with her sister, Romy Belzile-Maguire.
Myriam used that $15,000 to pay for her first order of products from the manufacturer. The rest is history. Ahead, she shares her tips for finding manufacturers and suppliers when you’re starting out.
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How to navigate your relationship with factories
1. Lean on your experience and network in the industry
Sometimes the hardest part for new founders is convincing factories to produce their product or do a small first run. What worked for Myriam was introducing herself through the brands she had worked for and highlighting her years of experience.
Even though Myriam was just starting Maguire, the factory owners knew some of her old colleagues (and even called them for references). “You need to keep good relationships with everyone,” Myriam says. “Working in the industry really helped because people know your reputation and know you’re someone they can trust.”
2. Broaden your search for good manufacturers
Myriam also asked for recommendations for manufacturers from her industry contacts. She emphasized how important it is to look both close to home and abroad for suppliers and factories. “I feel like there are good factories in every country,” she says. “You just have to know the people. You have to visit them.”
She also went to trade shows and asked suppliers who they worked with. “Material suppliers are a good way also to find factories,” says Myriam.“They want to give you the contact because that means maybe more business for them.”
3. Start with small orders
Myriam’s advice is to test factories with the smallest orders you can. After all, that’s one of the advantages of direct-to-consumer companies. You don’t have to pay distributors or fulfill large purchase orders from wholesale clients.
It’s not just that you’re trying to do quality control either. “Sometimes it’s like you don’t like the way they work, so you have to let them go because it’s too complicated to work with them,” Myriam says, citing some factories she tested where the communication was too slow. She also encourages people to work with multiple factories — just in case one of them goes out of business or needs to stop production temporarily.
4. Be flexible and understanding
Often, companies with bigger orders or a bigger brand name will get the priority at factories. Myriam says it’s actually an advantage to be a smaller company because the contracts are usually less punishing for the factories if they miss a deadline. “They know that if they’re a bit late with us, we still have a relationship and that makes their life less stressful,” Myriam says.
She says she thinks of factories as an extension of her own team—and it’s a two-way street. If you are a good partner to the factories, they may be able to help your own business grow by offering you credit or collaborating more closely on the next product.
To learn more about finding manufacturing partners and expanding into retail, listen to the full interview on Shopify Masters.