Before placing an order with a factory, it is quite reasonable for you to ask for a sample to review. But when you make this request, usually the factory requires you to pay for it. Why?  One would think a sample doesn’t cost that much, and the factory should send samples free, to express their sincerity in obtaining your business.

It is important to know, firstly, that some factories will indeed provide free samples. Assuming it’s a lower-cost item, and if what you are asking for is something they manufacture all the time and have in stock. In these instances, often all you must pay for is the courier cost (which, if sent internationally, can get a little pricey by the way). However, for many factories, and many of the items you’ll want samples for, you must pay for the item itself and additionally for the courier. Why?

The real need is the real reason! Over time, factories have found that they send out many samples but seldom receive feedback, not to mention orders. It seems many people ask for samples out of curiosity, but they are not serious when it comes to placing an order. To prevent this from happening, to stop the looky-loos, factories began requiring that all potential clients pay for a sample. This way, the factory knows that you’re serious about following through.

As a sourcing consultant, I usually recommend that my clients order samples from at least 3 different factories. We know we only need one sample to confirm the order, but we really want another two for comparison. When the factory sees we are willing to pay the sample cost, they know we are serious and there is a real chance at a contract. And, if we can get some or all the factories to provide samples for free, we may ask for 4, or 5, or more instead of just 3.

Custom samples are a different deal altogether, and as expected there is a sample fee. Usually, it is much higher than the unit price. Why is that? The short answer is because it’s custom. There is no “assembly line”, or another timesaving measure in place for this one-off sample you’re asking for. And unlike regular or stock samples, a lot of extra effort goes into the preparation of that one sample for you.

What’s more, factories produce regular or stock samples with mass orders, so the cost, if you do have to pay, is just the unit price. But for custom samples, it is a totally different ballgame. Sample quantity is always quite small (one or two) which as mentioned previously can’t be made on a production line, so the factory usually sets up a sample room where custom samples be made there. Sample rooms are a heavy investment and are equipped with lots of tools and machines for various jobs. Workers creating your sample from scratch are more sophisticated and specialized, which means the labor costs associated with the creation of your sample are much higher than standard production worker costs.  Custom samples almost always require different, unique materials which require that a special person search the local market to find them. Again: more money. Everything you’re doing is custom.

And think of this too: packaging. For custom samples, even though the quantity is small as one or two pieces, it still needs some of the same processes as mass production… like printing a box for it. In short, to make one or two samples for you, the production process is the exact same as mass production, with none of the convenience of mass production. As you can imagine, printing only one or two boxes is a much more expensive proposition per unit for the factory than printing 3,000 of them.

It’s important to note that if you already have an established relationship with the factory, they may be willing to provide you with samples, even custom samples, for free. They already know you are for real and that you’ll likely place another order with them, so they’re very interested in talking to you and working with you further.

Navigating the process of obtaining a sample and then reviewing it for the key features you’re looking for, and offering it at a price that will yield a profit, can be a tricky business!