Without question, the first thing people ask about our distributed manufacturing model, especially since our products are handmade, is "How do you make sure the quality is up to your standards?" Here's how we do it:
1. Provide ample documentation, specifications, and instructions. Instructions are key, even if they're master craftspeople, they still need to learn to make your products. Make yourself available for questions and if you're missing details in your docs they ask about, add them.
2. Go through a vetting process and have them make samples. Take the quality of the samples with a grain of salt and have faith they're going to improve after the sample process. If they lack the basic skills you need, it might not be a good fit. The sample process is also about learning the intangibles of a person, so your decision to work with them shouldn’t solely rely on the quality of their samples.
3. Have an intensive follow up process after you receive the samples. Point out details that didn't live up to your standards, circle them in pictures and explain them, how they should be improved, and how to look out for them going forward. But like I mentioned, the sample process is more than just looking at the quality of the samples. Did they ask the right questions, or too many? Are they following directions? Were they quick to send you the samples? Are they excited to work with you? Could this person improve over time based on their intangibles? These should all be factors in your decision as to whether you hire them long term or not. I've forgiven some details in quality, knowing they’re great at receiving feedback and will knowingly improve upon it.
4. Makers should feel like they're part of the company and be given credit for making your products. I remember seeing this in sports cars, where engineers would sign the engine. We do something similar - we include an insert card in every one of our products featuring the maker who made the product and their location and how hiring independent makers like them is part of our mission. Now that their name is on the product, they can take ownership in the products they're sending out and feel like they're not just someone hiding in a room making products for you.
5. Provide bonuses for 5-star reviews. When you get a 5-star review for a product that a maker made and shipped, they should be rewarded for that. We offer bonuses for 5-star reviews, but the bonus isn't so outlandish that we risk makers soliciting customers for reviews, which we don't want (which goes against our confidentiality agreements anyways), but it's not so small that it won't make a significant impact on attention to detail and quality. I recommend doing this since reviews are few and far between regardless, you won't be paying out this bonus often, but when you do, you should be happy to lose money on the order in order to maintain your quality with your maker and create lifelong customer.
6. Let go. At some point, you're going to have to put trust in the people you hire. Yes, you may get product defects along the way, but if you're providing great customer service and proper follow up with that maker, possibly supplemented with more training or insight, that’s something you’ll eventually need to accept. You're not going to see every product that's made and sent out the door when you hire people to make your products, regardless of where they are. Even when companies have QC, there will ALWAYS be product defects they didn't see. Accept the fact that not every product will be perfect, have great customer service, and continue to iterate on your processes to continue to reduce the probability of product defects and bad quality.
Want to know more or have questions about our distributed model? Contact us to learn more and connect.