By Lee Rhodes
Entrepreneurial growth brings excitement and opportunity. With each next step comes questions to answer and potential directions to take.
Take outsourcing, for example. An estimated 300,000 jobs are outsourced from the U.S. annually. On paper, aligning with a third-party manufacturer can provide a lot of value. It’s cost-effective and can focus your team’s big-picture initiatives.
The question, then, becomes whether it’s right for your company. For sustainable brands, does outsourcing connect with your green goals and vision? And will it diminish your bottom line to the point that your company can’t reach its bigger benchmarks?
Sustainability is a core value that must emanate from every part of your brand. Outsourcing should connect with that green value system while simultaneously bettering the bottom line.
Bring in a Helping Hand
Balancing your entrepreneurial and environmental goals through outsourcing is a tricky task. Here are three simple steps to guide your thinking:
1. Know yourself. Any decision your brand makes should have a clear through line to your company values. Authenticity is key and can never be regained once lost. In fact, 54 percent of customers distrust brands, which makes transparency even more important. Your customers should clearly recognize sincerity in your outsourcing plan.
In the early days of my company, glassybaby, we outsourced an order of 150,000 glass votives to a facility in China. But when they came back, they weren’t what we’d envisioned. The glass was dirty, and the colors were dim. What’s more, they didn’t fit with our American-made products philosophy. We take pride in our homegrown products and couldn’t reconcile the fact that so many were produced overseas. The pieces remained in palettes for nine months before we gave them away.
The experiment proved how important our values were to us. We take pride in our products being efficiently made and unique in presentation. To hold on to that authenticity, we decided to pay more to bring manufacturing back in-house with artisan glass blowers. As you deliberate your outsourcing options, keep your core values and goals in front of you. That way, every decision you make — like whether to outsource manufacturing — will fit into your authentic story and will engage your customers.
2. Choose your suppliers like you choose employees. In a MicroSolution survey, 78 percent of global companies said they value their relationships with their outsourcing partners. Outsourcing isn’t a one-brand job. Should you do it, partner with companies that are as passionate about it and your goals as you are. Just as you want employees to feel deeply about your core values, outsourcing partners should be similarly inclined.
When we moved production back to the United States, we continued to outsource some work, like packaging and production of our tea light candles. But we made sure those partners were family-based companies like ours who shared our values — including our value of sustainability.
When we vet our suppliers, we consider only companies that share our passion for sustainability. Each year, more than 500 new chemicals are introduced into the environment; these elements deeply affect the natural world, animals, and people. With this in mind, we do a thorough examination with potential partners to ensure their materials, processes, and supply chains coincide with our sustainability values. If one variable doesn’t align with ours, we go elsewhere.
You should view outsourcing as a collection of relationships that need to be maintained. These people are joining your brand’s family. Make sure they’re kindred spirits in sustainability and all other facets of your business.
3. Take cues from your buyers. In a Salesforce study, 66 percent of customers said they’ll leave a brand if they feel like “just a number.” Your most loyal customers believe in your values and are the reason you do what you do. They wholeheartedly believe in your mission and know which decisions make sense for your storyline. Take cues from them when forming your outsourcing strategy.
We knew bringing our sourcing and production back to America would be a popular move with our customers. U.S. consumers are increasingly concerned about where their products originated. Many customers choose to buy from local, sustainability-focused brands; this has led big and small businesses alike to focus brand stories more on American production.
Our American-centric outsourcing strategy ended up being a hit with our customers. The move made sense to them as part of the brand’s story, which established a deeper bond with our loyalists. Customer feedback is the fuel that drives product and brand evolution. If buyers appreciate domestic manufacturing, prominently feature it in your company’s value system.
The overarching question you need to ask about outsourcing is why: Why are we doing this, and why will it improve our overall brand? Foundational decisions from the heart lead businesses to success and create a lasting brand. With each step forward, small or big, it’s always important to remember the intention you created from the beginning.
Lee Rhodes founded glassybaby in 2001. She developed the idea for glassybaby’s one-of-a-kind votives and drinkers with the core mission of helping cancer patients she met during treatment afford basic needs such as bus fare, childcare, or groceries. Ten percent of the company’s entire revenue goes toward a charitable organization.