Private labeling presents a lucrative opportunity for many life science businesses. It can rapidly and dramatically increase market access and also transfer marketing, sales, support, and other costs outside your company. On the other hand, it can incur redesign costs and introduce inefficiencies that weigh on your profitability, hurt distributor relationships, dilute your brand, and have other potential negative consequences. The question of whether to allow private labeling, and under what conditions, is a complex question with many factors to consider. I will go over some common issues and considerations so you can be more prepared to answer the question: To private label or not to private label?
Perhaps due to my having a strong background in issues pertaining to distribution, the first issue that I often address is how a potential private-label partner would fit into the current distribution network. An obvious ideal situation is one where the private-label partner would serve in area where you are looking to increase distribution anyway – perhaps one in a region where your distributors are not meeting targets or where you have no distribution in the first place. Forging a private label agreement with a company that would serve areas in which you have solid distribution can damage valuable distributor relationships.
Another issue to consider is branding. Whose brand is stronger, yours or your private-label partner’s? If your brand is stronger, the private-label partner will be less likely to compete with products carrying your brand (which is good for distributors and would mitigate conflicts mentioned above) and there is less risk. If your partner’s brand is stronger, they may be able to sell more product, but they may also become in a position of power once the agreement is in place if most life science researchers know your product only through your partner’s brand. This can give them a huge amount of leverage. Another ideal situation to look for and attempt to leverage is if your brands are strong in different geographic regions or different market segments.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, be sure you can trust your private-label partner. A successful partner will be building a business around one of your products but the customer loyalty will be theirs. Ensure that you trust them enough to not develop an analogous product themselves, jump ship and begin private-labeling a competitor’s product, or even steal your technology! Selecting a partner with whom you have a good relationship, or one who is highly reputable, is extremely important.
Many factors play into the decision of whether or not to allow private labeling of your products. The reasons for doing so or not doing so are different for every company (and indeed are different for every OEM company / private label company combination) and every situation. Keep in mind what is important to your company, realize where the value lies for your partner, and carefully weigh the pros and cons. Always keep in mind that even if your company and another are not ideally suited to work as OEM / private label partners, contract terms can often be used to alter the dynamics of the relationship and provide a mutually beneficial environment for all stakeholders involved.