Professional Plush Manufacture: Direct to Factory or Middleman?

October 27, 2015 at 7:07 pm 3 comments

I’ve been doing plush for about a year and a half now and getting a lot of questions about plush production so I wanted to share what I’ve learned – which could help you avoid making some of the mistakes I made.

This is the second of a series of blogs regarding the plush process.

You’ve thought about all the realities of getting a plush manufactured that I suggested in my first post in this series and are ready to make the investment. Now to choose the method of getting your creation brought to life.

There are generally two ways to go about it – doing business directly with the factory or going through a middleman. Here are some of the pro’s and cons.

Direct:

Pros –

  • Can significantly cut the cost of production

Cons –

  • It’s largely up to you to keep on top of the factory
  • You will have to arrange shipping and deal with customs clearance
  • You’re a small fish in a large pond, you may not have as much ‘power’

Middleman:

Pros –

  • They keep up on the factories and hold them accountable
  • They arrange all the shipping and make sure things are customs ready
  • They have a lot more financial power than you do (brutal fact, but this is so key – read on)

Cons –

  • More expensive

I’m gonna be honest here – I strongly suggest going through an established company for your plush rather than going direct.

For my second plush project, after a rather unsatisfactory experience with the first company I had chosen, I started looking for different options. I had an opportunity to go directly through a factory and I liked how much it slashed the price on my plush so I figured it would be a win win. I decided to use this method for the production of my Catpuccino and started the prototyping with them.

The Catpuccino 12" plush.

The Catpuccino 12″ plush.

Things were going smoothly at first. They even got the look of the plush perfect from the very first go. I had no edits on it which was amazing. I was feeling pretty good about this one. And then the troubles started….

  • They missed deadline after deadline which meant I missed almost my entire 2015 convention season to sell these.
  • I had half funded these through pre-orders. Based on the factory given timeline, I told people they could expect them by a certain time. They arrived about 5 and a half months late. Despite keeping all my customers well informed, I had one open a Paypal dispute on me saying I had failed to deliver the plush. PP ruled in favor of the customer and I had to pay a chargeback fee.
  • They forgot to put my tush tags on the plush which means none of this run have any Kimchi Kawaii branding
  • They screwed up the shipping and sent them to the wrong side of the country (Florida, I’m in California) so I’ve had to pay double shipping to get them not only from China, but now to the correct state. And they won’t do anything to compensate for this.
  • Communication with them has been awful

What happened?

Well, it all boils down to the cliché ‘money talks’. They took on multiple accounts. Some of them had way more financial power behind them than I do as an independent artist. I was shuffled to the back burner to be handled ‘when they had time’. Plain and simple.

My third plush project I sourced through another company. This company has a ton of accounts with the factory, which means they are a much higher financial threat if they aren’t kept happy and they pull their lines from the manufacturer.

See, an established company with say, 8 accounts totaling thousands of dollars each can throw a significant dent in a factory’s operating cost if they pull out due to factory irresponsibility. Me threatening to pull out with my $2k account is like a buzzing mosquito. You wave it off and move on. And even if it bites you, it’s just a minor annoyance.

Definitely do research and find out which company works for your needs!

  • Check out the company’s portfolio. Most have a gallery of previous plush they’ve created for businesses. You may even recognize some of the plush and if you’re lucky, may own some of them already so you can see the quality first hand.
  • Run multiple quotes with different companies for the same plush so you can make a more educated decision that fits in your budget.
  • Read all the fine print – does the company protect your images/ideas?
  • What fees can you expect?
  • How does the prototyping work – are there unlimited edits or are you set to a certain amount for a certain price?
  • Check with fellow small business plush creators. Word of mouth from artists who’ve already done the process can really help narrow down options!*

I know it can look so tempting to go direct to factory when looking at it purely as a numbers game. On paper, it looks like an obvious decision. But unless you have enough financial clout to really make the factory stay accountable, those numbers can bite you in the butt. Sure, it’s cheap now, but it almost always ends up costing you more in the long run!

Next up: I’m not a millionaire, how do I fund this???

*Not all artists are willing to give out source information. Please respect artists’ wishes regarding this as they have the right to not reveal sources that may have required many hours of research to discover. Don’t badger them or publicly bash them. There are many artists willing to share sources. Each one is well within their rights as business owners.

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Entry filed under: Informational. Tags: , , , , , , , .

Professional Plush Manufacture: Factory or Handcraft? Plush Manufacture: How Do I Fund All This?

3 Comments Add your own

  • […] up, going directly to the factory or working with a middle man, the pros and and […]

    Reply
  • 2. LiL Moon  |  November 7, 2015 at 10:06 am

    Thank you for writing this articles. They are quite informative. Though I’m a little confused about the difference between the middleman and direct approach. How do you know if you are working directly with the factory or through a middleman? I have researched various custom plush sites and they all seem like I would be working directly, but how could I tell?

    Reply
    • 3. kimchikawaii  |  January 14, 2016 at 6:15 am

      In a way, they all sort of have a middle man, but from what I can tell, direct you’re working with a representative at the factory itself. Middle man is where you have a company who’s job is to coordinate with a contracted factory or factories.

      Reply

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