A recurring topic in many discussions about incontinence or wearing diapers in general is the cost vs. quality vs. comfort vs. design issue. The general gist of it is that people just can’t seem to find a product that makes them perfectly happy in either of the aspects and they are frustrated. True, as my ongoing series of diaper tests reveals, there are really good products, not so good ones, mediocre ones and I haven’t even begun too show you some really bad ones, so it’s infinitely difficult. It’s also true that you can have your own product made in China – on Alibaba many manufacturers that are probably operating in some shoddy old factory with really old machines offer their services, but it’s still not that easy, is it? There’s a few things to consider.
First, of course, sheer mass. Having a container full with 50000 packages of super-soft, snugly fitting, nicely printed diapers may sound like heaven to you and could last you a lifetime, but compared to the bigger picture that’s small nonetheless. Considering that at least about 10% of the overall populace are going to need incontinence products at some point in their life, it’s easy to imagine how big a market it actually is and that firing out those thousands of packages is something the big players do every day in one of their many big factories. It really might be interesting to see it first-hand one day.
Next in line is the actual manufacturing cost. This can easily be roughly guess-culated by looking at web sites of industrial providers for the various components, be that the pulp, the absorber polymer, covering foil, adhesive tapes, covering tissues or even the yarn used in the side guards. This stuff is sold in big barrels, sacks or on coils with hundreds of meters worth of materials. Actual cost for machine runs can be extrapolated e.g. from commercial offset printers. Therefore it’s easy to construct an example.
- A diaper of the strongest absorbency weighs about 170 to 210 grams on average. Of this the bulk of the weight of course is the padding. In such a scenario the pad would make up about 150 to 190 grams of weight. The pad itself is a mixture of super absorbent polymer (SAP), cellulose pulp and a few other chemicals to inhibit smells, prevent bacterial and fungus growth and that sort of thing. When you now assume that there’s only a hint of SAP in every nappy and it comes in sacks that may contain 200 kilos (see the images on pages 17 and 18 of this brochure), the math is easy to do. Yes, a single one of those could probably last for a full day’s worth or more.
- An average size M diaper has an unfolded area of about 90 by 70 centimeters. To this you need to add some extra bits left and right, top and bottom so it can be run through the production machines with those oversize bits being cut of at some point. So let’s say you need a 1m x 1m sheet per piece and of course those sheets are on an endless roll of 0.03 mm foil that may be 5 meters wide. This could easily mean you have tens of thousands of sheets on one roll.
- When I was still working with people in the printing industry, the cost per printed sheet was often calculated in fractions of a (Euro) Cent, meaning that even a whole brochure folded, cut, stitched, glued or sewn together could cost you only like 3 Cents a piece. The difference there was then determined by factors like paper quality, number of printed colors or extra processing like die cuts, foil and varnish coatings and that sort of thing. If you apply this analogy to a diaper, it is easy to assume that the cost would be in similar ranges.
When you now put everything together in your head, you can see that the cost in materials, energy and so on can give you a diaper in a price range of anywhere between 10 Cents to 1 Euro, though in the latter case you’re already getting close to having it gold-plated. ;-) This is of course only half the truth, and that’s ultimately where it gets interesting. You haven’t thought about distribution yet, have you?
In order to get your dream diapers out among people you need to run it as a business sort of. You will need to found a small LLC or similar, pay taxes, have storage facilities, have employees handling the shipping. You yourself will of course also want a salary so you can pay your rent and will be busy all day coordinating things with the manufacturing facility, product development, marketing and your resellers further down the chain. They all will want to make at least a buck to cover their own cost and quickly you add a Cent here and there to the price of your product. Additionally you have shipment cost for those containers from China and need to pay import customs fees. When all is said and done, your perfect, cheap 20 Cent diaper has tripled its price.
So what am I trying to say? It’s not that easy to enter this market and long before you make any revenue, you have to do quite some investments both in real money as well as your personal time and energy. And returning to my initial point – unless you reach certain numbers in mass production, it may not be a viable business opportunity. My sticking point usually is that you need to get into the “serious” medical markets, but then you face additional hurdles for certification and getting listed e.g. in our “Hilfsmittelverzeichnis” so doctors can prescribe your products.