• How to Make Design Changes to An ODM Product

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    Changing the design of an existing private label (ODM) product can save you both time and money – compared to creating your own custom designed product. At least in theory.

    In this article, I explain how to implement the following changes:

    • Logos and other prints
    • Colors
    • Materials
    • Components
    • Product design

    I will also explain why ‘small design changes’ can sometimes be far more complicated, expensive and time consuming than you might think.

    a. Logos and other prints

    Logo printing or engraving requires no special technical capability. Virtually all manufacturers listed on Alibaba.com and Globalsources.com offer branding.

    All you need to do is to provide a logo file, and the following information:

    • Print type (i.e., engraving or screen print)
    • Color (i.e., Pantone)
    • Position (i.e., centered)
    • Dimensions (XX x XX mm)

    You can use various file formats, including .jpeg and .png. However, I recommend that you use a .ai (Adobe Illustrator) or .eps.

    make design changes

    b. Colors

    You can change the color of any fabric or plastic according to a Pantone or RAL color.

    Stainless steel, alloys and other metals can also be modified through plating. There are, however, limits to which colors you can get through plating. Below are a few examples:

    • Gold
    • Rose Gold
    • Black
    • Blue

    Another option is to add a plastic coating to the material.

    Just keep in mind that ‘customized colors’ tend to increase the minimum order quantity (MOQ) requirement, as they make the material specifically for your products.

    c. Material

    Most suppliers can offer various material options, even for private label products. Below follows a few examples:

    ProductMaterial Options
    T-Shirta. 100% Cotton

    b. 100% Organic Cotton

    c. Bamboo Rayon Fabric

    Wrist Watcha. Zinc Alloy

    b. 304 Stainless Steel

    c. 316L Stainless Steel

    Wooden Clothes Hangera. Beech

    b. Pine

    c. Redwood

    Most suppliers don’t have documentation or catalogs outlining the various material options. Instead, they expect their customers to know what they want.

    That said, you can still ask the supplier to provide a list of available materials for a certain product.

    d. Components

    You get to choose anything from buttons and zippers to quartz movements and CPUs, when importing private label products from China.

    You can either ask your supplier to provide a list of available components, or ask them if they can provide your components of choice.

    e. Product Design

    This one’s a bit more tricky. I often get questions from importers looking to make ‘small design changes’ to an existing product.

    Small changes are necessarily not less complicated than creating a custom design from scratch. Yet, it depends on the product.

    Metal and plastic parts

    Even the smallest design change requires that the supplier opens a new mold. They will, of course, bill you for this.

    If your idea with modifying an existing product is to save time and money, ‘small design changes’ don’t make much sense.

    When making design changes, you must provide a design drawing or 3D file. If the supplier is willing to share their design files, you can modify them directly and send them back.

    But that’s a big ‘if’.

    Textiles and leather

    Changing the design of a textile product is easier, as it’s ‘only’ a matter of cutting the fabric in a different way. This may require new cutting tools, but not always.

    When making design changes, you must provide patterns or drawings, based on the supplier’s originals.

    Electronics

    Even the slightest design change to a PCB requires prototyping, and compliance assessments. Hence, there is no easy and cheap way to modify electronic products.

    Whenever you make changes to a PCB design, you must provide a complete PCB schematic and bill of materials.

    f. Other Considerations

    Many importers have the idea that changing an ‘existing product’ is faster, cheaper and easier than creating an OEM product design from scratch.

    It’s a bit more complicated than that.

    It’s rarely worth the time and effort to make ‘small design changes’

    I get the idea behind changing an existing ODM product. It gives you and the supplier a ‘template’ or reference point. Perhaps it would work, if it was not for the following:

    a. Most suppliers don’t actually ‘have private label products’. They upload photos of products they ‘can make’. As such, they don’t have the design drawings or bill of materials for many products.

    b. Some suppliers upload photos of products they’ve manufactured for other customers. You should not use such designs. But don’t expect the supplier to ‘warn you’.

    c. Even if they have made the listed product before, they probably don’t have the design drawings and spec sheets that you need, to make the design modifications.

    Let me give you an example

    In 2016 I was working for a small European watch brand. They were just starting out and didn’t feel the need to create a custom designed watch.

    Instead, they wanted to go for an ODM watch design, and make the following design changes:

    • OEM hands
    • OEM indexing
    • Change to an automatic movement

    They still had a clear idea of what they wanted the watch case to look like. We sent their ‘concept images’ to the supplier, that then provided 3 matching ODM products.

    Mission accomplished. Or at least that’s what thought at the time.

    After spending almost a month going back and forth, the supplier revealed the following:

    a. The ODM watch didn’t have the right thickness to fit the required movement.

    b. The ODM watch mold could only be used for zinc alloy. Not 316 stainless steel, as the customer wanted.

    c. The custom designed hands didn’t fit with the watch case

    The whole point with selecting an ODM watch was to save time and money.

    Now, the client had paid us to deal with the supplier for one month, which cost them far more than the 500 dollars it would have cost them to buy an OEM mold from the beginning.

    Making changes to an ‘existing product’ only makes sense if you are willing to compromise. If you mix in custom designed components and component changes, you will end up spending more time and money than it takes to create a specification and design for an OEM product.

    Intellectual Property Issues

    Remember what I said about suppliers listing products they’ve made for other customers? Now, what if you buy one such ODM product, and it turns out to be patented or design protected by that customer?

    If so, they can sue you, or at least for you to destroy the products. Without any compensation whatsoever.

    Manufacturers in Asia are not IP lawyers.

    They don’t know if a design is protected, or if it can be protected.

    Don’t take their word for it if the tell you that it’s their design.

    Of course, it depends on the category. For example, a T-shirt can’t be patented, but logos and artwork can be design protected.

    Who owns the injection mold?

    Let’s picture a situation where you spend a few hundred dollars on a new injection mold. Will tell your supplier that they can use that mold to manufacture products for your competitors?

    Most likely not.

    Most supplier also understand this. They will not ruin their existing customer relationships to accommodate new buyers.

    As such, many product listings you see on websites and B2B supplier directories are off limits.

    You can only use molds that are owned by the supplier.

    Some suppliers do invest in ODM molds that can be used by any customer. But don’t take that for granted.

    ‘Fake’ product listings

    I’m not referring to counterfeits here. Instead, I’m referring to products that the supplier never actually made.

    Suppliers treat their listings as a showcase for what they ‘can make’, not necessarily what they can start producing tomorrow.

    Some suppliers upload renderings, or take product photos from other websites, to demonstrate that ‘hey, we can make this product for you!’.

    If they’ve never made the product before, they don’t have the injection mold.

    If they don’t have the injection mold, they must make the injection mold. And you’ll pay for that injection mold.

    So what’s the point of going for an ‘existing design’ if you have to pay for an OEM design anyway?

    Conclusion

    Making design changes to an existing design only works under these conditions:

    a. You are willing to compromise heavily and base your design entirely on the ODM product

    b. The Supplier has all the tooling in stock

    c. The Supplier owns the tooling

    d. The design is not patented or protected by another customer

    Some suppliers invest heavily in their own product line, but they are not your average supplier.

    And, you need to be willing to accept what they have on offer.

    Trying to make major design changes to an ODM is far more complicated and time consuming than going back to the drawing board and creating an OEM from scratch.

    Trust me, I’ve wasted hundreds of hours on dead end ODM projects, only to go back to square one.

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