Breaking the Great Divide

by / ⠀Startup Advice / January 2, 2013

There’s a great wall dividing manufacturing and supply and the gap will cost you time, money and clients. Here is how we took our small business to the next level, by actually going to China, the source of where our products are manufactured.

In 2009 my business partner and I started our promotional product business in Green Lane, a small town outside of Philadelphia.  Being recent college graduates, we had little professional business experience—but we had a motivated spirit for success and countless projects that we had worked on since even before we were teens that had always netted us a good profit.  Whether it was selling electronics on eBay or books at the local farmer’s market we were always doing everything we could to make as much money as possible so we could travel. After college we soon realized we needed to do something big that had more scalability.

As we thought about our business we thought that we could achieve a strategic advantage by breaking down the great divide between manufacturer and supplier by going to the source of our supply chain.  And we could leverage this change to help us achieve our growth objectives.

In 2010, one year after we started our business, I left for China with a one-way ticket, a handful of clients I’d worked hard to get, and a few connections from my days studying Mandarin in Beijing.  Within months we set up a Hong Kong base with a leading manufacturer, which began a business partnership that would entirely change our business.

Our new partner offered us something our competitors took years to build—either through direct Chinese supplier relationships or by building their own factory: the ability to more closely control our supply chain, from product conception to production to delivery.

Over the course of the year, a second partner transferred to Hong Kong to bolster our presence, as well as solidify our working relationships.  We now have 4 sales people working full time as well as 2 support staff.  By “cutting out the middleman” we’ve create a lean manufacturing machine that can provide the highest quality control of any of our competitors, the lowest prices, and the fastest turnaround time.  These are all things that every company will tell you, but it’s something we actually back up.  Because most of our sales people are at the factory in China, we can do personal inspections of the goods resulting in high quality control and fewer production mistakes.  With our streamlined material sourcing relationships we can get the lowest price.  And with our partnership with FedEx our shipping time is only 1-2 days from the facility to the mailbox in the US, Canada or Europe.

The story hasn’t ended yet.  We’re now a 5-Star supplier on ASI, and working our way up on SAGE and PPAI (all national promotional distributor associations).  We’re also steadily expanding our sales force in the US, Canada, and Europe.  We believe with one foot on the factory floor and one in the distributor’s door, we’ve got a good formula for long-term growth.  Through our partnership we’ve increased our profits by almost 3000% and our supply chain has been streamlined to be more manageable for maximum efficiency.

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At a very young age Stephen was able to travel abroad to Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia with his family who encouraged and nurtured a love of exotic locations filled with interesting people, food, and experiences.  This early exposure to the world around him eventually brought him to Beijing where he became fluent in Mandarin and started two companies, Emperor based near Philadelphia, and Marka in Shenzhen, with a total of three factories.  These factories  turn out high quality promotional products like USB flash drives, ear buds, and mobile phone cases to name a few.  He has spent most of the last 3 years between the US & China developing the US market as well as big plans to expand into Europe with his newly registered office in beautiful Nice, France.  In the future he plans to import into China which is forecasted to become the world’s largest market by 2030.  

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About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.