Timelines for producing a toy or promotional item in China
How long does it take for something to be produced in China?
This is a very important topic and a question that is asked many times by the client when evaluating the production of a promotional item. While the answer may vary depending on the type of item, the complexity of it, the approval times, the materials used during production, inspections, shipping, custom clearance, etc., this is meant to give you an idea and a general understanding of how long a given item can take to be produced.
Let’s first break down the items into two categories: off the shelf items and custom items.
Off the shelf items are products that are generally available and offered by many factories or companies. These items typically have already undergone a tooling process and can be customized and personalized by simply adding a logo – via pad print, imprint, sticker, decal, etc.
The second type of item is more complex: custom items. This is an item that would require a certain level of customization, tooling, prototypes, etc. These will take considerably longer to produce, as they will require several additional timelines to consider: design evaluation, clay or wax samples, tooling or molding, pre-production sampling, and finally, the actual production.
Now that we have broken down the items into two categories, let’s talk about some of the most common promotional items we produce for different clients around the world. This time we are going to focus on 2 types of materials: fabrics and plastics.
1. Fabrics: With fabrics we can make backpacks, pencil cases, plush toys, pouches, purses, etc. This time, we will focus on plush toys, which are very popular throughout the world and specially in the kids’ promotional field. There are thousands of factories that offer plush items – some can be quite appealing and are ideal for a promotional program. These would be considered off the shelf items. They can be customized by adding a sewn label, embroidery, tags, insert card, polybag, etc. You can typically expect 60 days for the production process, out of which 15-20 days are for purchasing and getting the raw materials that will be needed for production.
But what about if you want to produce something totally custom? Let’s say you run a chicken restaurant chain and you have 5 characters that represent your brand, and that you wish to dress them up as soccer players for an upcoming promotion with a local soccer club. If this were the case, you should plan on adding an additional 60 days on top of the 60 days of production.
Why? Because once the idea has been generated, there has to be an illustration process in place. The drawings are tweaked and adjusted based on the characteristics of the plush or fabric to be used. As you can imagine, plush is extremely difficult to control so the details have to be minimized in order to ensure consistency during production. If you require very fine details, sometimes it is best to do that via imprint or silk-screening or even embroidery, which will require film and setting up a press of some sort. That all takes time and adjustments along with corrections and modifications.
You should also allow time for proofing – once the prototypes are done, typically, there will be revisions in place. Every time there are revisions, those need to be communicated thoroughly with the factory and that can take several days. So in summary, allow 120 days (4 months) for a custom plush program to be manufactured.
2. Plastics: Plastic is still one of the most popular media used to communicate brands to kids when it comes to toys. There are tens of thousands of manufacturing facilities that deal with plastic throughout China. As such, there are also a lot of different types of plastics available to create promotional items: pvc, abs, PP, PS, HIPS, HDPE, LDPE, PE, etc., etc., and the combination of these plastics as sometimes, it takes more than one type of plastic used in the manufacturing of a toy.
A plastic toy that is already available in the market, can be produced fairly quickly. Typically, it can take a factory 30-45 days to produce those items. Again, this is exclusively for something that is already in existence and that will require a very simple pad print or logo application via a sticker or decal.
If we are going to create a totally new toy with totally new characters, timing will be extended. From the moment the idea has already been approved and we already have drawings, illustrations and final sketches, there is a very important process in place that has to take place before the manufacturing of a tool or mold takes place. There has to be a set of samples made from either wax or clay (most common materials used). These samples can take several days to make, and no matter how good the illustrations are and no matter how good the sculptor is, there is always some fine tuning that needs to be made, just like the plush items. This tweaking, back and forth, takes many days to accomplish. We have worked on some projects that took a few days and on some that took a few months. The complexity of the characters will determine how long it will take to accomplish. This process can take about 30 days.
After the sample or set of samples has been approved, we then move to the tooling process. The tooling is normally a large piece of metal that is constructed based on the type of item that is going to be produced. If it is a set of figurines for example, this is more likely going to require an injection molding tool – a very large metal piece with cavities and passages, through which the plastic will be pumped and injected. Producing this big chunk of metal and making sure it will work correctly takes time. This can take anywhere from 30 to 60 days, depending on the complexity of the tool and on how many you need to produce. If it is an item that has a variety of different plastics, you will need to make different types of tools and this can also add to the time. But, for the purpose of giving a general idea, let’s plan on 60 days here.
Finally, we can begin producing the actual items. Depending on the type of decoration, assembly, final touches, etc., this process can take another 60 day. So in summary, you can expect to spend 150 days (5 months) creating a custom plastic toy or item.
So now that you have a rough idea of how long it will take to produce a given item, we need to talk about the not-so-much-fun part of the equation. Logistics.
When an item is manufactured, it needs to get to you somehow. The factories in China have completed their work, but now the company that you are working with needs to ensure that the item has met all the criteria established by the client. Let the quality assurance and inspection process begin. Normally, the inspection process begins prior to the production, as the materials used in the confection of the items are tested for levels of toxicity, foreign objects, heavy metals, etc. Only then can production begin. There is also a process called “intervention”, and that is when inspection takes place during the production to ensure that the criteria set is consistent through the manufacturing process. Finally, upon completion, the items are checked once again for consistency, but also for esthetics and safety. While this is a process done by the factory, companies hire third party agencies to do this for them to ensure thoroughness.
This process as you can imagine, can also take time. A minimum of a week all the way to up to a month should be allowed for this process, depending on the total number of pieces being produced, the number of components associated with the item, type of packaging, etc.
Once the goods have been inspected and have been approved, they are moved to a consolidation facility or placed into a container for transportation to the vessel line. From the moment the vessel line has possession of the goods or the container, it can take several days for the goods to be loaded onto the actual vessel. The goods are normally transported via ocean from a port in China to the final destination. So between inspections and consolidation, you can plan an additional 10 days all the way to 45 days.
Actual transportation can take another 30 days (China’s port to destination port) up to 60 days (some South American countries) and in some cases, that container will be unloaded at another port (connecting port) and then loaded onto another vessel, adding risk for delays. Once the goods arrive to the final destination port, there is a final process that takes place, and this makes people cringe. Customs Clearance.
Even if you have done everything you are supposed to do and filed all the documentation you are supposed to file, there is a chance the container will be pulled for inspection. This can cause delays ranging from 7 days all the way up to several months. Why? No reason. It is just the way it is and nobody can control that. All you can do is work with agents that are familiar with the customs clearance and brokers that have connections and can move quickly.
If you have made it this far, you are probably scared and shaking at the thought of doing a custom promotion. Don’t be. There are companies that do it every single day and yes, it is certainly a difficult job, but that is what they get paid to do. Their job is to ensure your item is produced accordingly and delivered under realistic deadlines. Beware of companies that promise to deliver something so fast that it sounds unrealistic. There are certain steps that cannot be skipped, while others that can be expedited. Plan accordingly and ask a lot of questions early in the process.
Cliffnotes: How long will it take to have my item in my warehouse if we produce it in China?
– Plush generic items but with branding: 60-90 days for production and 60 days for delivery (4-5 months approximately)
– Plush items with high levels of customization: 120 days for production and 60 days for delivery (6 months approximately)
– Plastic generic items but with branding: 60 days for production and 60 days for delivery (4 months approximately)
– Plastic items with custom tooling required: 150 days for production and 60 days for delivery (7 months approximately)
…and we haven’t even talked about licensed items and properties. We will leave that for another time as I don’t want to scare you even further.