Two men wearing hard hats stand side by side in a warehouse filled with various machines and steel tables. Both men look at an electronic tablet held by the man on the left.
Getting into manufacturing doesn't mean you have to buy a factory. Your business can partner with existing producers who specialize in your industry of choice. — Getty Images/shironosov

Demand for consumer products continues to rise as shipping chaos, along with materials and workforce shortages, continue to put a strain on the supply chain. For businesses that can speedily turn out high-demand quality goods and get them into hands, homes and businesses, there is great opportunity. In fact, U.S. manufacturing is overwhelmingly dominated by small businesses. Those with innovative ideas that can be replicated, packaged and promoted can win in a marketplace where newness, need and wish fulfillment dominate. The key is to design a standout product, prototype it to perfection and partner with the right producer who aligns with your values and expectations, both in terms of process and quality.

Clothing

Success in the fashion business is not confined to those with a background in design and sewing. These are great skills to have, but a love for fashion, a great sense of style, an awareness of what is going on in the market and a high level of resourcefulness can also go a long way if you’re considering starting a fashion label of your own. Having a well-defined concept is a good first step. If you’re a graphic designer with artwork that could translate well to fashion, you may want to consider a print-on-demand manufacturing model. If your point of differentiation is more technique- or application-based, like tie-dye or laser cutting, you can source apparel items from wholesale vendors and customize in your own space. If you are a designer in the traditional sense, with a desire to bring your ideas to life in fabrics and materials that you source with greater control over quality and manufacturing, you can find patternmakers and apparel manufacturers to partner with, either domestically or abroad, and these partners can help optimize efficiencies. Knowing how to integrate emerging tech optimizations in apparel manufacturing is a key to success and remaining competitive in the often-saturated fashion market.

CBD products

If you’ve experienced the purported therapeutic benefits of CBD oil firsthand, it’s a category you may want to consider as your entry into manufacturing. CBD oil–infused products, from tinctures to topicals, represented $2.8 billion in 2020. By 2025, the industry is forecasted to reach $17 billion thanks to CBD's growing notoriety for relieving ailments, from inflammation to stress. You can start by playing around with different formulations from the comfort of your kitchen, beginning with extracting the oil from hemp plants and finding the right delivery method, whether it be homegrown tea leaves or a homemade lip balm. There are also reputable CBD oil suppliers you can source from based on your brand’s mission, as well as base formulas like lotions, oils, gels and serums to incorporate them into. As you formulate your products, and your business plan, make sure to account for any legal requirements and regulations as they tend to be ever-changing.

Toys

For the entrepreneur who is a kid-at-heart, designing and bringing to life toys can be a fun and fulfilling business. You can find inspiration anywhere, by starting with your own interests and passions (sports, superheroes, STEM, dolls, aviation, building) and by keeping an eye on all things pop culture as well as the education landscape. Once you have a concept, you will want to sketch out your idea, refining it until it captures the features and magic you envisioned. You may want to get some feedback from your target audience and then refine some more. Making a 3D prototype is an essential next step for testing form, functionality and appeal to both its intended audience and retail toy buyers. Once you’ve optimized, compare the cost, timing and minimum quantities of a few local manufacturers who specialize in toys and can help with production.

Tea

Other than water, tea is the most-consumed beverage in the world. Tea is big business and is expected to experience growth over the next few years. In fact, afternoon tea is expected to be a major trend in 2022 and drinkers will be looking for new, elevated and fanciful options at home and out at restaurants. If you’re among the tea-obsessed, perhaps you’ve dabbled in formulating custom blends of your own, procuring different leaves from tea shops or wholesalers. While there are six main categories, the variations are limitless, as tea leaves can be blended into endless flavor combinations based on geography or flavor profiles. Get in the game by first playing around with different blends and conducting tastings to get feedback. Learn about production and packaging and get expert level insights by attending the World Tea Expo or taking one of many online courses available.

Candles

Candle sales are expected to reach $6.64 billion by 2027. Candles have long been a go-to for gift-givers and their popularity has only skyrocketed as a form of stress reduction and self-care, particularly during the pandemic. Candle-making is somewhat of an art form, and candle lovers can’t resist adding those that reflect the latest waxes, scents and vessels to their collection. Getting started as a candle-maker is a low-cost proposition, requiring a small investment in basic supplies that can be purchased online at wholesale prices. As you perfect your technique and create your signature styles, you can add personalization of colors, scents, shapes and labels to appeal to those looking for custom-made candles.

For the entrepreneur who is a kid-at-heart, designing and bringing to life toys can be a fun and fulfilling business.

Microbrews

For many beer buffs and homebrewers, creating a craft beer or ale brand to sell to others is the ultimate dream job. The reality is that the craft manufacturing process requires both in-depth knowledge and innovation, combining the principles of traditional beer-making with interesting new flavors or unique ingredients. The best way to start is with the right equipment, and then developing, tweaking and refining ingredients to get the taste just right for broad appeal. From the outset, it is essential that you understand and abide by the legal and licensing requirements of this heavily regulated industry. Invite niche bloggers and influencers to sample your brand with the hopes that they will share a positive review with their readers.

Phone cases

Nearly $202.45 billion was spent on smartphone accessories globally in 2020. By 2030, it's estimated that the market could reach nearly $329 billion. With every new smartphone introduction comes upgrades or adaptations to phone cases. Phone cases are also a way for individuals to express their personality or aesthetic, and it’s not unusual for people to have multiple cases to switch things up as the mood or need strikes. If you are looking to launch your own line of phone cases, you will need a design concept that reflects current trends, interests or something new and unique. If you are simply looking to sublimate your design onto case blanks, you will need to inventory the type of case that works with your design and application process. If you are engineering the case itself, you can self-manufacture via a 3D printer, first designing via CAD software and then using different filaments based on your desired outcome.

Jewelry

If you are an artisan in the $32 billion fashion jewelry space, perhaps you’ve considered scaling your business to produce pieces for a larger audience but are constrained by lengthy design and production times. The way forward could be as simple as aligning with reliable suppliers and investing in or upgrading your tools and equipment for greater efficiency. You can also bring your designs to life with greater speed and precision with 3D printing, which has gained traction in the jewelry landscape, particularly with intricately designed metal jewelry. There are also small-batch manufacturers that can help replicate your physical or computer-generated prototypes to yield a greater quantity of merchandise for you to sell.

Grape wine

Wine drinkers, estimated to be 75% of the adult population, are often as excited by the art and science of winemaking as they are by its consumption. If you are among the many wine tourists who have visited a vineyard and walked away with visions of producing your own chardonnay or merlot, perhaps you should consider creating your own label. It’s not as difficult as one might think. It starts with a solid understanding of the many different varieties of grapes available and the flavors they yield, along with the best ways to source them based on your taste and standards. You could spend years growing your own grapes or, as most home winemakers opt to do, visit local vineyards or wine dealers to sample, select and purchase the grapes that offer the qualities you are looking for. Production requires know-how as well as a manufacturing facility, which is cost prohibitive for most novice vintners. Luckily, there are custom crushers gaining in both popularity and presence in many markets. These processing facilities offer equipment, from production to bottling, along with expertise and collaboration to those in search of cost-effective ways to make their wine aspirations a reality.

Cosmetics and skincare

In the age of clean beauty, where good-for-you, earth-derived and chemical-free products are getting all the attention, it's a good time to be an independent manufacturer. There is (literally) beauty in simplicity, and having the ability to address a want or perceived need with a “less is more” approach is a win-win for formulators and consumers alike. Once you have defined your mission and identified your niche, you can begin sourcing the ingredients and packaging that reflects your brand values, with various platforms available that help vet vendors and streamline the process. Testing and production can begin in your kitchen, but you have to account for and adhere to lab-grade sterilization practices. Outsourcing to one of the many labs that specialize in small-batch beauty is another, albeit costlier, option. Beauty is a multibillion-dollar business, characterized by over-saturation. Yet there is always room for new players, the key being to introduce something with originality and authenticity.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published December 23, 2021