We have samples!
From the 14 factories that I contacted through Alibaba, 12 replied to me and I asked 6 of those to send me samples. Since I happened to be in China for the Canton fair, I asked all 6 of these factories to send me samples to my hotel before I left Guangzhou. To my surprise, all 6 of the factories got samples to my hotel within 5 days FREE of charge. This was a total shock to me because, in the past, I had been used to spending $50-100 for each sample since it was shipped all the way to me in the USA. A nice bonus to being in China!
I went to Hong Kong in-between Phase II and Phase III of the Canton Fair, and when I returned back to my hotel, I had this waiting for me.
This is 5 of the 6 (the other one arrived the next day) samples I received and when I unwrapped all of them, I was left with this:
Since we are in a tight time frame (hoping to get these launched before the New Year), not all the factories were able to send me samples of the exact size I wanted (90cm x 5mm diameter). Consequently, they sent me whatever they had available.
From left to right, we’ll call these factories 1 through 6 (6 isn’t pictured)
Quality of Bamboo
The quality of the bamboo seemed pretty similar for all the factories except factory 3. Factory 3’s bamboo was definitely of a higher quality and felt like it had a sanded finish. It was very smooth without any splinters or defects.
If I had to choose a factory with the worst quality, it would probably be factory 4 as they seemed to have the most imperfections.
That being said, let’s keep in mind that these sticks are going to be used for roasting marshmallows so the expectations for quality of wood are probably pretty low from our consumer’s standpoint.
Quality of End Points
When I asked for quotes from all the factories, I sent them this picture to show them the style of point I wanted. I chose this because I didn’t want a very sharp point as I was worried about people getting hurt from a sharp point and about the sharp points poking through the plastic packaging.
This is what the factories sent me:
As you can see, I think factory number 3 was the only one to hit the nail on the head here. The other factories’ points were a little too sharp for my liking. I will say though, I could have been a little more clear about this to them. This doesn’t necessarily rule the rest of the factories out, however, I would want to emphasize this when I follow up with them that I don’t want the sharp point.
Thickness of Bamboo
The thickness of all sticks that were supposed to be 5mm all appeared to be about equal. I didn’t have any calipers with me in my hotel room so couldn’t actually measure the diameter it but I’m not terribly concerned with it.
Factory number 6 was worried that 5mm was too thin for this length of stick so they also sent me some samples of a 90cm x 7mm stick. While the diameter is only 2mm thicker, it certainly had a heavier feel to it.
“Real” life Testing
So cut me a little slack here because I was staying in a hotel in China at the time. I wasn’t able to find any marshmallows, however, I did take a couple sausages from the breakfast buffet. Since the sausages were a little smaller than a typical American hotdog, I decided to put two on there to more closely mimic a hotdog.
These are the results of the 5mm stick testing:
And the 7mm stick testing:
As you can see, the 7mm performed a lot better than the 5mm stick in the bend test. That being said, even though the 5mm stick did bend quite a bit with the weight of a hot dog on it, I think it was still very possible and acceptable to roast a hot dog on the 5mm stick. I am going to ask the factories for the price difference on the 5mm vs. 7mm however I imagine the added cost of the shipping and FBA fees for the heavier weight sticks may make it cost prohibitive. We’ll have to do some more math to figure that out. Regardless, I am already ready for summer and fall to roll around again to light up some campfires!
Wow, Bigger than Expected
Only one of the factories (number 5) sent me a bundle of 110 of the 5mm sticks. To be honest, I didn’t realize how big of an item this is going to be! I could envision in my head the length (about a yard/meter stick) however I couldn’t picture in my head what a bundle of 110 5mm sticks was like. Maybe this picture can help all of you understand:
It’s a pretty thick bundle of sticks and has some weight to it. It’s a good thing that these are eco-friendly, as we will hopefully be moving lots of units of bamboo to raise some money for charity.
None of the factories, except factory 3, sent me the samples in packaging. If I wanted to wait or if they were shipping these samples all the way to the US, I would have required them to put the bamboo sticks into packaging that I was considering using for actual sales. The downside to rushing these samples along to get them before I left China resulted in me having to view them without packaging.
I like the packaging that factory 3 sent me quite a bit. It is a very heavy duty type plastic and to be honest, reminds me of the packaging that dentists put their tools in after sterilization. The result of this is a package that makes me feel like it is something that is food grade and that I would be willing to put my marshmallow or hot dog on.
This is what that packaging looks like:
I am a little concerned to see if they would be able to do this with our MUCH larger product. Our sticks are obviously about 10 times as long as this sample as we have 3 times as many sticks per pack. I would have to see how this packaging looks without product in it before committing to it.
From here on, my favorite factory is number 3. I’m definitely going to follow up with them regarding packaging and pricing and just as backups, I will follow up with a few other factories as well. If for nothing else, I’ll get an idea of how other factories pricing compares.
Stay tuned for more information and don’t forget to leave your thoughts in the comments below!