December 2, 2015 by Andrew Minalto - 21 Comments

How to Become Your Own Manufacturer!

manufacturerI talk about sourcing products from China very often on this blog, and for a good reason – it’s what I consider to be the best method for people who want to create a successful business selling online (be that on eBay, Amazon, or your own online store).

But sourcing the right product at the right pricing is only step 1! Nowadays there is so much competition on eBay, which is only growing even further due to the influx of Chinese sellers listing directly on eBay.co.uk (Royal Mail’s recent agreement with Alibaba to provide cheap, tracked delivery options for shipments from AliExpress to the UK is just a sign of things to come).

What this means is that now, more than ever, you really need to think outside of the box a little bit and make your business stand out from the crowd if you want to be truly successful.

And that’s why I have started introducing another business model to some of my 60 Day Blueprint customers – where you sell products that you yourself manufacture in-house. So instead of buying and reselling a finished product from someone else, you are instead purchasing materials and creating the product yourself (using equipment of course).

Now before you think I’ve gone mad, I’m not talking about setting up million dollar factories or production plants here… for that you’d probably want to go to China anyway, in order to keep your costs down and ensure that you’re competitive, price-wise.

What I am talking about is small scale manufacturing, where you create products yourself or, better yet, customise existing products using simple and fairly cheap equipment. This is something you can do from a small rented office space, or even your own home!

Any you create several important advantages by becoming your own manufacturer, such as:

  • Lower costs – it’s usually cheaper to run this in-house, rather than pay another company to do it for you.
  • Original products – by creating your own products, you can offer something truly unique to the marketplace, instead of competing with 50 other sellers with the exact same item on offer.
  • Quicker turnaround time – no more long shipping times waiting for new stock to arrive from China.
  • Full control – when you manufacture your own items, then you are in complete control of your business. No more relying on another company to produce the quality of product that you want and need.
  • The ability to create new products and enter untapped markets – when you are the one creating the products you sell, you can make changes as and when needed and can even create completely new products if you think that’s what your customers demand. This gives you the opportunity to really create value for your customers, which means much bigger potential for your business than when simply reselling someone else’s products.

I hope you are starting to understand all the benefits and are getting excited at the idea of becoming a manufacturer! The opportunities really are endless here but as always I want to help you a little more with the creative side of things, so let’s now go through some of the most common types of products you could create and sell for a profit on eBay and other online marketplaces.

To keep things simple, I will group different products by the equipment needed to manufacture them, as that way you can narrow things down according to your budget and “factory” set-up.

Full colour laser printer

There are countless products you can manufacture (/ customise by printing on) using a PRO quality laser printer. These include:

  • Stickers
  • Decals
  • Cards
  • Invitations
  • Posters
  • Signs
  • Mugs (additional equipment required)

mugs

  • Pens (additional equipment required)

pens

  • Phone Cases (additional equipment required)

phone-covers

  • T-shirts (additional equipment required)
  • Jumpers (additional equipment required)
  • Caps (additional equipment required)
  • Backpacks (additional equipment required)
  • Etc.

There are two main routes you can go down with laser printing – you can either offer your own designs or offer custom designs, where you print based on your customer’s specification. From my experience, custom printing is hugely popular and though it’s slightly more saturated nowadays, the margins can still be very good, especially if you get corporate jobs – branded pen sets, branded t-shirts, caps etc. – as then the volume is quite high as well.

OKI are a brand I can personally recommend here, as we have several of their printers in our office for pro quality proofs as well as for my greeting card business, and they are extremely low cost, both in terms of the initial investment and, even more importantly, the on-going running cost.

In particular I recommend the OKIC711 for A4 printing and the OKI C9655 for A3.

oki-printerIn terms of where to buy, you should of course do your own research, but I can suggest Printerland.co.uk as a good starting point. They have a best price guarantee, offer free next day delivery, have a free phone number where you can call and get advice about the best printer for your needs and overall are a great company to deal with.

printerlandThey currently have the C711 available for under £700 delivered, plus there is also £250 cashback available from OKI on that model, which makes it a real bargain!

oki-c711The C9655 is available for just under £1200 delivered, though there isn’t any cashback offered for it at the moment.

oki-c9655Vinyl cutter/plotter

A vinyl cutter is an incredibly versatile piece of equipment that can be used to produce:

  • Signs
  • Home decals – wall decals, window decals etc.
  • Decorations – Christmas, Halloween decals.

windows-decals

  • Shirts – name/number printing for sports teams (this is a niche in itself!).

names-numbers

  • Vehicle decals – car, van, corporate (another big money maker).
  • Electronic wraps/skins/decals – console skins, controller skins & decals, laptop wraps etc.

video-game-wraps

  • Safety stickers/signs

warning-stickers

  • And more!

It’s basically impossible to list all the different applications for vinyl cutters, as the only real limit is your imagination!

The price for vinyl cutters can vary a lot depending on the brand and size. Two models that I can safely recommend are the Roland GS-24 and the Graphtec CE-6000 range, but they are both around the £1,000 mark.

You can find cheaper options, and eBay is actually a good place to look if you’re searching for more affordable, entry-level models, though you will of course have to make some sacrifices in terms of performance and reliability.

3D Printer

I was actually a little bit concerned about including 3D printing in this list, as it is still a very new technology, and isn’t anywhere near as cost effective as it will be. However I think we can all see the potential here, so it would be stupid for me not to include it, even if it is more of an idea to look out for.

If you are interested in utilising 3D printing right now, then you should really try and stick to offering fairly small items (due to the cost). Things like:

  • Phone cases
  • Custom jewellery
  • Custom figures/toys – maybe based on an actual person, i.e. “get a custom 3D-printed doll of yourself!”
  • Small pieces – chess pieces, pieces for board games, pieces to go with Warhammer sets, decorative pieces to go with branded Lego… etc.!

Once again the possibilities are huge and they’ll only grow over time as costs come down and the technology improves.

As I said, this isn’t really a perfect manufacturing process right now, simply because the technology is still so new. It would probably be best if you had some personal interest in 3D printing and are only looking at this as an added use or to help cover the cost, as purely from a business standpoint, you might not get that great of a ROI at the present time.

But then again analysts are predicting this industry to be HUGE, so maybe it is worth the risk and initial outlay to put yourself at the head of the market when the inevitable boom does take place.

Plus there are a few things you can do to help boost your profit margins, such as ordering your printing materials in bulk and really researching the right printer for what you want to do (they differ hugely in terms of speed, quality and running cost) – don’t go for an ultra-cheap home model as you need something more professional if you’re going to be selling what you produce.

And last but not least, actually advertise the fact that the products you’re offering are 3D printed! This is an area of big interest for the general population and people will be willing to pay more than usual if they know they’re getting something unique that they can then show off to friends and family, so don’t forget to properly utilise this fact!

3d-printersEngraver

Engraving is one of the easiest and cheapest methods for creating custom products, and can be used on a vast array of items, such as:

  • Awards
  • Medals

medals

  • Signs & Plaques
  • Tags – dog or cat ID tags

dog-tags

  • Candle Holders
  • Glasses
  • Mugs
  • Belt buckles
  • Leather belts

Again, there are a lot of corporate opportunities here, in particular with the awards, medals and plaques, which is a good avenue to concentrate on.

However, as engravers are generally quite cheap and easy to use, there is a fair amount of competition on eBay already, so try and think outside of the box and use engraving on products that aren’t so commonly offered. Even just using different materials or different colours can help separate you from the crowd and differentiate your products.

CNC router

CNC machines can be used to manufacture/engrave goods of a variety of materials, including:

  • Wood
  • Plywood
  • PVC
  • Acrylic
  • Plastics
  • Etc.

cnc-machineAs they can be used on such a large amount of different materials, there are many product opportunities using a CNC router/engraver. However you generally see them used to manufacture wood products, such as:

  • Home decorative items – art, pictures, frames.
  • Small furniture – boxes, stools, tables.
  • Bird houses

bird-house

  • Kitchen/office organisers

Really anything that requires an intricate, computer-controlled design, particular wooden products, and a CNC machine is your best bet!

The manufacturing process itself can create a lot of dust and rubbish, so you will need either a garage or a rented space to make this work. Coupled with the fact that the machines themselves can be quite expensive, and this means that quite a large investment is needed to get set-up with this method.

However the flip-side of that is very low material and operating costs, which means – high margins!

Laser cutter

This is a terrific new piece of technology! Laser cutters can be used to cut paper, cardboard, wood, acrylic, polystyrene, MDF, foam, foil and many other materials and can also be used to engrave items when a very high level of precision is required (if engraving high-end electronics for example).

trotec-laser-engraverPro models are very expensive, so it can cost upwards of £10k to get started in this niche. But once again a high barrier to entry also means less competition.

As laser cutters are so versatile, there are thousands of product opportunities, including all the usual ones that have come up a few times now:

  • Art
  • Home decoration
  • Jewellery
  • Signs
  • Keychains
  • Stands
  • Educational – art and design projects
  • Architectural models
  • Model making

laser-cut-fencing

  • Packaging design / prototypes
  • Foam inserts
  • Electronic engraving – laptop, phone, tablet etc.
laser-engraved-ipadSewing and Embroidery

This one is a little different as it relies less on any particular piece of machinery and more on the individual, so you really do have to be the right person for the job if you’re going to consider sewing and embroidery.

If you feel you might be that person, then you’ll already know the huge product possibilities:

  • ANYTHING made from fabric – cushion covers, pillow cases, chair covers, tablet/phone cases, pencil cases etc.!

custom-name-tag

  • Custom embroidering – clothing, caps, backpacks, blankets – this is a huge market, in particular the children’s sub-niche.

leather-walletSewing can be a great method of production because the initial investment is so low and the materials are also relatively cheap. However it can be very time consuming for more complex projects, so you either have to ensure you charge a premium or go for a more easy to make, “mass produced” style of item.

Die cutters

A die cutting machine can be used to cut pretty much any material that you could cut manually with scissors, it’ll just be significantly faster, easier and more precise. This includes:

  • Chipboard
  • Craft metal
  • Fabric
  • Felt
  • Leather
  • Magnetic sheets
  • Plastic sheets
  • Wallpaper
  • Wire Mesh

In terms of the products you can create, well basically anything flat from the above materials! To help get your mind rolling:

  • Boxes
  • Cards – custom card making is actually a big market for die cutters
  • Gift cards
  • Envelopes
  • Cupcake wraps
  • Craft embellishments – HUGE, this is really the main sub-niche for die cutters
  • Party bags/wedding bags

3d-tuxedo

  • Stationery holders
  • Scrapbook albums and pages

die-cut-paper

  • Models and kits
  • Cards – custom card making is actually a big market for die cutters
  • Educational aids – flash cards, printed letters and numbers, etc.

The main positives to using die cutters for your manufacturing is that they only require a very small space to operate and are also fairly easy to use.

Accucut are a brand I can recommend, in particular their GrandeMark model, which retails for around £700 in the UK. If you want something a bit cheaper, you can also take a look at Sizzix and their Big Shot Pro model, which you can find for under £300.

Lastly for the dies – you can of course get your own custom dies, though I would probably suggest buying a large amount of pre-made dies, thinking purely about the cost.

Foiler

Foiling is the process of printing (adhering, technically) metallic foil onto the surface of a material – usually board, paper, plastic or laminated sheets.

This is an incredibly simple process, which means that foiling is very cheap to start!

The products you can manufacture are mainly confined to one of the following categories:

  • Greeting cards

foiled-greeting-cards

  • Wedding invitations
  • Business cards

foilded-cards

  • Letterheads
  • Certificates
  • Craft items/embellishments

Though as always, if you can come up with a product that utilises foil printing which isn’t offered by many other people, then you may be on to a winner – so do try and think outside of the box.

Specialist printer

I left this till last, as it’s more of a general miscellaneous, rather than one specific manufacturing idea.

Basically, there are a number of niche based printers designed to do one particular job. As you may have noticed from this post, sometimes many different printers can do the same thing – but these specialist machines will work best, in terms of speed and quality.

So if you have a very specific product idea, it may be worth searching for a specialist printer for that niche. A few examples are:

  • Direct to t-shirt printers

t-shirt-printer

  • White colour printers (OKI C711WT) – means you can offer white printing on a dark background, to set you apart from other sellers who are unable to do this.

white-printer

  • Container printing machines – used to print directly on to plastic food and drink containers.
  • Tampo printers – these machines allow you to print on to complex 3d objects, such as a ball or helmet.

I hope you get the idea! This specialist equipment exists in nearly every niche, so it’s impossible for me to list them all, but I hope this is a good starting point for you.

And there we have it – 10 different forms of manufacturing that you can do in-house! They all differ in terms of budget required, space required and skill required so you’ll have to go through the options (including the many more out there, this list is just an intro) and find something that’s suitable for you.

I do want to quickly talk about the cost though, as I know many of you will be put off straight away by the idea of spending possibly thousands of pounds just to then be able to actually make products… but you have to look at this as an investment in your business, not a cost!

There is also the option of renting commercial equipment, which can actually be okay if you want to test the business, however I wouldn’t really recommend it, as it will impact your margins over time.

Also, now that you’re a manufacturer, you have to also be wary of your on-going costs, in this case – materials. You should always buy in bulk to keep your costs down and in fact many times the best place to purchase your needed materials will be China.

Last but not least, here’s a list of tips for you to bear in mind before we wrap up today’s post:

  • Images – a lot of the manufacturing processes we discussed involve printing images on to products, but NEVER use images that you have just taken from Google! These are not licensed for your commercial use and you instead have to buy stock images from sites such as colourbox.com
  • Premium branding – people love personalisation and designing their own products, which is what a lot of these ideas take advantage of. So make sure you really advertise this fact! It’s your selling point and what will set you apart from the other eBay sellers all flogging the exact same item.
  • Packaging – it is more important than ever to make your products look good and packaging plays a huge role in this. Invest in a proper logo and get some professional packaging designed (if your products require it). You can either find a designer online or even just use 99designs.co.uk and get multiple designers to submit their ideas!
  • EAN Codes – speaking of packaging, I’d definitely suggest including EAN codes on your product’s packaging, just so that you’re 100% set if you want to sell offline or on Amazon (more about selling channels below).
  • Wholesale – you are now a manufacturer, so it’s time to start thinking (and selling) like one! And yes, that means selling wholesale to other online retailers, though I would suggest only selling to companies who sell on their own ecommerce store, and not eBay, as you’ll just be creating competition for yourself.
  • Offline – depending on the product in question, you should also definitely consider selling offline as well. Of course this doesn’t mean investing hundreds of thousands of pounds opening a shop – you can start off selling from stalls or even get in touch with some B&M stores and ask them to display and sell your products on a commission only basis (at least initially so that there is no risk for them).
  • Etsy – I’m often asked by irate eBay sellers about where else they can sell their items, and my answer is usually “nowhere, unless you have a custom, handmade product”, in which case Etsy is a great option. So don’t ignore that avenue if your products fit into their offering.

Okay, I think that finally brings us to the end of today’s lengthy post. I really hope you have found this guide useful and it has opened your eyes to the huge amount of opportunities there are in manufacturing your own products.

Of course this won’t be suitable for everyone as it is more time intensive than a conventional buy and sell model, so in that regard it’s probably best for people who can dedicate a lot of time to setting this all up and actually manufacturing goods on an on-going bases.

Having said that, it’s not as if you can’t make this work alongside a full-time job, you will just have to be more disciplined and organised – in order to manufacture products in advance etc.

Either way, I really hope to hear some success stories from people who do read this and go on to start their own manufacturing business!

Maybe I’ll even order one of your products for sentimental value. 😉

Until next time.

All the best,
Andrew

21 Comments
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  1. hi andy, ive just got a new drum set and toner set for my c711 printer however its reading that there there is a toner sensor error yellow, do you know what this means and how i go about rectifying it? thanks

    Mark

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Mark,

      Sorry, nope.

      We haven’t had any problems with our printers to be honest.

      One time there was a problem with bigger machine printing vertical lines, then we called in technician who quickly fixed it.

      Apart from that, I don’t have much experience with any other problems….

      I would recommend you call OKI’s technical support line and maybe they can advice you on this problem on the phone.

      Andrew

  2. Hi andy,

    Have you ever had any problems with one of your OKI 9655 printing faint lines? It seems this is happening to one of ours and wondered if it’s a common problem

    Thanks
    Mark

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Mark,

      Horizontal or vertical lines?

      Andrew

      1. They go horizontally aross the length of the page, they aren’t really prominent but can see them if say there is a white background such as printing a text document

        1. Andrew Minalto

          So the lines are NOT white?

          Like you would print something full colour and lines would show up white?

          1. Hi Andy no the lines aren’t white, it’s like a faint black line with an equal distance between each horizontal line across the length of the paper

            Thanks
            Mark

          2. Andrew Minalto

            Usually lines are caused by some dust inside the printer (carry platform or toner rolls).

            You can open printer and remove toners and visually inspect if you see anything?

            if not, best is to call in technician who can take a proper look, especially if your printer is still under warranty.

            Andrew

  3. Hello Andrew, great post!

    Do you think this could have the potential to expand into selling on your own website rather than just ebay and amazon etc? What do you think?

    Thanks

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Joe,

      Yes, absolutely, why not!

      If the product is suitable for a standalone website (99% are), you can definitely sell your product via your own eCommerce shop and if your margins are good enough, you can also sell it in wholesale – to B&M shops, other online shops etc.

      Andrew

  4. […] I know that this kind of business concept won’t be suitable for everyone but it simply shows what’s out there and that it really is possible to become your own manufacturer. […]

  5. Hi Andrew,

    A well timed post, as it’s something I’ve been looking at over the festive period. I generally purchase items in the 2-5 cbm quantities from China, so use LCL sea freight, however one version of the product I’m looking to stock is a much better proposition when you get to FCL quantites.

    However, I’ve only just moved into my first warehouse after struggling to cope with home, shipping containers and pallet storage. It’s 900sqft, and despite going up 4-5m high with racking, there is no chance for purchases of this scale.

    So, here’s my addition to your advantages you’ve listed, and actually the biggest advantage for me:

    Better stock control – not really just in time manufacturing, but if I make the product myself then I can just keep stock of a few cbm worth of products, knowing I can spend a couple of hours of slack time from the usual business routine to create some more stock.

    Anyway, my real reason for commenting – machinery! I’m also looking at die cut production, but the machine you have is too small scale for what I need. Have you looked into anything bigger? Would be interested in your thoughts.

    Secondly, any experience/advice on purchasing machinery from China? I vaguely remember a reply to a comment by you stating you’d only purchase machinery in the UK… but the prices are very tempting (something in China FOB around £3500, would probably cost £15k+ here) and there is some good quality kit. My biggest problem – getting a 2ton 2mx2mx2m box out of a container….a question for Woodlands I think!

    Thanks,
    Paul

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for your comment.

      What kind of size you need? I haven’t looked into professional, large scale machines but one bigger, semi-automated machine I have been considering is this one:

      http://www.tippmannclicker.com

      I would personally never buy ANY electric machinery/manufacturing equipment from China, sorry. Such machines need regular maintenance, support, QUICK repair/access to parts if something goes wrong (and it usually does) so for me personally, China is a no go.

      Yes, I’m well aware of HUGE price difference (take for example same laser cutting machines) BUT the risks are simply too high, at least in my opinion.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

      1. Hi Andrew,

        I’m looking at die templates of upto 550 x 450 – although maybe more if I try to do 2 templates within one, to increase throughput. I do need it to be a decent throughput, which leads to bigger machines like hand fed presses etc

        Happy to PM you the actual products I’m thinking about producing.

        I thought that might be your stance on Chinese machinery, at UK prices it’s not possible to outlay and I’m not sure I can compete with bigger sellers… I’ll need to check the figures!

        Thanks, Paul

        1. Andrew Minalto

          Unfortunately I don’t know any machine for that size…

          You’ll have to look for commercial type machines.

          Thanks,
          Andrew

  6. Hi Andy,

    Do you recommend buying 3rd party remanufactured toners for the OKI C9655 printer? or would you say there might be too much loss of quality and recommend only buying branded toners? thanks

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Mark,

      I wouldn’t personally use 3rd party toners, no.

      We always use originals (from Printerland) and it still comes down very cheap – price per printed page because these printers are really effective in toner consumption.

      Andrew

  7. Hi Andrew,

    Still early days with the selling on ebay but I would like to look into going into selling new products and this article has caught my eye.

    I’d like to have printed t-shirt and mugs etc with Band logos and stuff but I guess this is a massive risk what with copyright laws?

    Just wondering how so many people seem to get away with it?

    Another avenue I thought about was perhaps offering some unique designs and then also offer personalised printing for T-shirts, Mugs and Mouse mats etc. but again could I potentially end up in trouble if I end up printing a logo that someone has chosen that happens to be under a copyright law?
    Seems like a fairly low cost and easy market to get into just seems like I’ll have to be treading carefully when I come to printing things and always at risk of breaching copyright laws. Any advice on the copyright side of things?

    Thanks

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Matt,

      You definitely can’t use any logos, characters, bands/team logos etc. on such products. These are all copyrighted materials.

      Only designs you can put on products are:

      * Ones that you create;
      * Ones that customers send in (personal images etc.)
      * Ones that you purchase from stock image sites.
      * Ones that are copyright free.

      Everything else would be illegal and could get you in trouble.

      Yes, many people are breaking law on eBay but that doesn’t change the fact that it is still illegal.

      Andrew

  8. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for another top post.

    What kind of printer or printing process would you recommend for phone cases? Sublimation? Or you think there are better methods? Am I right to think the sublimation method does not print on the side of the cases? Any better way?

    Cheers

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Alan,

      Yes, sublimation printing is best for printing phone cases. No, you won’t be able to print on sides of the case in one go. You can possibly to separate prints for sides but it will be very time consuming.

      There are other ways too, to manufacture customised phone cases – starting from special decal paper which you print and apply to cases, cover with protective sealant, ending up with vinyl wraps which you can print & cut with plotters.

      Plus of course laser engraved wooden, plastic, aluminium covers.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

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