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Private Label vs White Label: How to Choose the Right Business Model

You have a great product idea. You know it can sell. But should you slap your own brand on it and call it your own? Or let someone else brand it while you manufacture it in the background?

Deciding between private-label and white-label business models is key.

So how do you choose? Let’s compare the two approaches.

Private Label Model

With a private-label product, you control and own the entire process:

  • Product design – You create the product formula, specs, software code, etc.
  • Manufacturing – You hire a factory to manufacture the product for you.
  • Quality control – You control production quality.
  • Branding and marketing – You create your branding and packaging. You handle all marketing and sales.

Controlling everything allows maximum profit margins. But it also means bearing all the risk and effort.

Consider Charmin toilet paper. Proctor & Gamble designers reinvented toilet paper, creating super soft quilted brands. P&G handles manufacturing in their factories. And they invested tens of millions into advertising campaigns like “Enjoy the Go.” That’s an integrated private label operation.

Pros of private label:

  • Higher profit margins
  • Full control over product and brand
  • Differentiation from competitors
  • Perceived as higher quality


  • High upfront investment and risk
  • Significant effort across the entire operation
  • Longer time-to-market

Private label products need an optimized supply chain to maximize quality and profit.

For example, if you start a software company, writing all new code is expensive. Doing every step costs significant time and money upfront.

White Label Model

With a white-label product, you let someone else handle the behind-the-scenes work while you focus on branding and sales.

A white-label operation typically works like this:

  • manufacturer creates product designs, invests in production facilities, and handles manufacturing.
  • distributor buys in bulk from the manufacturer. They usually have non-compete distribution rights.
  • The white labeler (you) partners with the distributor. You buy the finished products and sell them under your brand.

The white label model lets you shortcut upfront development and manufacturing. Focus your efforts instead on marketing and building an iconic brand.

Consider Savage x Fenty lingerie. They don’t manufacture their own designs or operate factories. Instead, they white-label existing styles from specialist producers like Carvico. Savage x Fenty provides the sizing specifications and handles branding, e-commerce, and promotions.

Pros of white label:

  • Low upfront investment
  • Faster time-to-market
  • Focus only on brand-building
  • Leverage existing infrastructure


  • Lower margins
  • Limited control over product
  • Less differentiation capability

With white-label products, the middle players eat into your margins. But you also avoid risky upfront costs.

Here is a comparison table illustrating some key differences between private label and white label business models:

Private LabelWhite Label
Product DevelopmentFully owned and controlled internal design and R&DUtilizes externally developed products
ManufacturingInternal or tightly controlled contract manufacturingLeverages existing external manufacturing
Quality ControlFull control over production quality and oversightLimited control, reliant on external quality
Intellectual PropertyOwns product IP, patents, and trademarkNo ownership of product IP
Branding & MarketingBuilds branding completely from scratchBrands on top of unbranded base product
MarginsHigher margin potential from controlLower margins due to profit sharing
Investment RiskHigh upfront investments and inventory riskLimited upfront investment but profit share model
Time-to-MarketSlower go-to-market due to new developmentFaster market entry leveraging existing products
Focus AreasBroad focus across product, operations, marketingSpecialized focus on branding and sales
Private label vs White label

Hybrid Model

Some companies use a hybrid model, mixing elements of private label and white label.

For example, you could create your own product designs (like a private label). But instead of building your own manufacturing, you outsource production to an existing factory (like a white label).

This balances differentiation with efficiency. You control what makes you special while leveraging existing infrastructure.

Either way, let’s explore the key considerations when evaluating both models.

Choosing Between Private Label vs White Label

Deciding between private vs white label depends mainly on these factors:

1. Upfront Investment and Risk

Private label requires big upfront investment into product design, trademarks, supply chain, etc. You also take on all inventory risk.

White label minimizes that initial outlay through profit sharing. Your main expense is marketing to build the brand rather than physical infrastructure.

If you have limited starting capital, white label allows testing an idea without as much upfront cost. But fixed manufacturing costs also limit the profit upside later.

2. Control Over Product and Brand

Private label means controlling your unique formulas, features, and intellectual property. You nurture your brand from scratch exactly how you want.

But too much perfectionism also brings bloat. Do you really need 10 formulas of the same essential product? Or 50 tweaks to an e-commerce checkout process? Constraints bring creativity too.

White label forces you to differentiate through branding, marketing, and customer experience rather than trivial product details. Find what truly makes you special rather than micro-optimizing every minor thing.

3. Time-to-Market

Private label means starting from zero. Even basic testing takes months to finalize details and build initial inventory. That delays getting to market quickly.

With white label, leverage proven base products to launch much faster. Sales velocity then provides market feedback to iteratively improve from there.

Silicon Valley legend Reid Hoffman famously said “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” White label allows launching sooner to start getting real customer feedback ASAP.

Yes, using existing solutions feels less innovative early on. But it lets you build momentum while working towards your vision over time.

4. Focus Areas

Private label requires focus across a wide range of areas – from supply chain logistics to website UI optimizations. That divides limited time and resources across many competing priorities.

The all-in nature also almost necessitates venture capital and extensive hiring early on. The founders’ mental bandwidth becomes quickly overwhelmed with distributed tactical details.

White label lets founders instead double down on their genius zones like branding and marketing. For example, social media maven companies like Glossier and Savage x Fenty focused narrowly on community building rather than distracting operational complexities.

5. Marketing and Distribution

A private label brand needs a major marketing investment to stand out from scratch. Distribution also requires building retailer relationships, licensing approvals, etc.

White label allows leveraging an existing company’s distribution network, sales team, and retailer relationships. Those established channels get you instant reach. Marketing then builds on that existing platform.

For example, white label electronics company Hurom licenses designs from parent company Kuvings. Hurom then focuses marketing dollars on search ads, social media, and influencer campaigns. That layer of branding on top of Kuvings’ established infrastructure enabled rapid growth.

Private and White Label Examples

Let’s look at some more examples that illustrate the pros and cons of private label vs white label business models:

Costco makes huge margins from Kirkland Signature, their private label brand. Costco handles product design, manufacturing oversight, and inventory. This allows strong quality control and differentiation from competitors. But the wide range of products also carries operational complexity.

As mentioned earlier, Hurom juicers white labels proven designs from parent company Kuvings. Hurom focuses on branding and e-commerce to target Western markets. This allows faster growth, albeit with lower control and margins.

Amazon Solimo represents Amazon’s vast private label portfolio. Solimo baby diapers leverage Amazon’s sophisticated supply chain for competitive pricing and user trust. Of course, few companies can match Amazon’s operational expertise and investment backing.

Dialectic Therapeutics is a biotech startup developing outsourced pharmaceuticals. They focus narrowly on drug discovery and clinical trials. Manufacturing and distribution are handled by specialist partners. This white label model allowed them to quickly prove novel IP without building facilities.

Getting the Best of Both Models

You don’t necessarily have to choose one model. As Lululemon showed, you can blend both over time:

Launch phase

  • Validate product-market fit quickly by white labeling an existing product range
  • Focus resources exclusively on branding and community building

This rapid iteration feeds quick learning.

Growth phase

  • Use proven traction to raise investor funding
  • Invest in custom designs and owned manufacturing for higher margins
  • Expand white label offerings into new segments as new experiments

Mature phase

  • Expand flagship private label product as profit driver
  • Double down on brand building as the primary wedge
  • Use a mix of private label and white label across the portfolio

Blending models creates flexibility. Custom manufacturing and in-house innovations differentiate you long-term. But white labeling fuels rapid iteration into new areas as constant market feedback.

Even at huge scale, many successful brands use hybrid strategies. Take Trader Joe’s grocery chain, which generates over $13 billion in annual sales. Around 80% of Trader Joe’s products are manufactured by third parties, almost like a white label operation. This allows massive SKU selection at Trader Joe’s 13,000 ft2 stores compared to 50,000 ft2 traditional supermarkets. By combining private label quality exclusives with efficient white label outsourcing, they deliver a unique curated brand experience.

Key Takeaways between Private Label vs White Label

The rise of ecommerce and D2C brands made building new brands easier than ever. You can launch a label from home. Nimble supply chains, marketing analytics, and payment gateways democratize the path.

So what wins – going all-in through private label end-to-end ownership? Or leveraging white label efficiencies to focus on the branding?

  • There’s no one right choice – both models can work extremely well
  • Weigh tradeoffs between control vs speed
  • Blend elements of both models over the company lifecycle
  • Use white labeling for rapid testing, while investing in private label flagships
  • Even large mature companies mix both models

Owning end-to-end control seems alluring. But the smartest entrepreneurs know what activities truly move the needle for their specific business. Identify your wedge into the market, then double down on excelling in areas that best fulfill your vision. Map supporting activities based on their strategic role – insource for differentiation or outsource for efficiency.

So choose your model based on what empowers your competitive advantage, aligned with the constraints you have. Let everything else be open strategy.

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