In today's modern society we take many things for granted. Gone are the days where a person has to grow fruits and vegetables or hunt for food to survive. No longer does a person have to make everyday products from scratch; be it butter or clothing. Today, we go to stores which stock mass produced brand name items and we simply pick them off the shelf and pay for them without any thought as to how they are made; how they got here; what resources and logistics are involved in manufacturing a product from its natural resources; shipping it around the world to various distributors, wholesalers, and retailers; and putting it up on the shelves so we can live in today’s society. The purpose of this research project is to showcase this amazingly complex series of events and bring about an understanding of, and appreciation for, the process by answering two seemingly simple questions at each stop along the way: "Where did it come from?” and, “How did it get here?"

Getting Started

Select an Item

Your research project will begin by selecting a man-made, manufactured product that can be purchased locally. Keep in mind that the more in-depth the research the better. Choosing locally made shell jewelry is acceptable but the number of steps from natural resources to the consumer purchasing the jewelry is limited and will receive less points than a mass produced Compact Disc. To be successful, you should choose an item that is mass-produced. Be careful not to choose a product that is too complex, your Sony PS3 is probably not a good choice because of its complexity. (Example: small metal pulley)

Start at the end and work your way back to the beginning

Begin your project at the checkout counter where you purchase your item. Now ask yourself, "Where did this come from?" and "How did it get here?" At most stores, you pick items off the shelf and carry it to the check out counter. So, that is your answer to the first set of questions. Now ask yourself, "Where did the item come from before it was placed on the shelf?" and, "How did it get to that place?" Typically, the item would come from the warehouse and a stock clerk moved it from the storage area to the shelf. Follow this line of questioning at each step of the way; from the shelf to its natural resources.

Shipping and transportation

Shipping and transportation of resources and finished goods makes up 4 out of the 11 steps in the sample flowchart provided (steps 4, 6, 8, and 10). The shipping process is a very important step in getting goods to the shelf for us to buy. If there were no large domestic and international shipping networks, we would never be able to purchase and experience the goods we have today. We would be stuck with only what could be made locally from our natural resources. You should trace what type of transportation (train, plane, truck, boat, etc) was used to ship the products to the next step in the flow chart. Identify the ports involved, the trucking terminals, etc. In our pulley example, the iron ore it is made from can be shipped by train to the manufacturing plant and then the finished pulleys are trucked to their distributors. Contact the respective shipping companies and inquire about the internal operating procedures used in organizing and consolidating cargo shipments from one point to another.

Sample Flowchart

Distributors, Wholesalers, Retailers

Manufacturers rarely sell their finished goods directly to the general public. Instead, large Distributors (step 7) buy large quantities of products (in this case pulleys), warehouse the product, and sell to wholesalers. Distributors usually handle certain regions of the country/world; a distributor in California would most likely not sell pulleys to wholesalers in New York. Identify the distributor, find out where they are located, and identify what equipment they use to unload the containers. Ask what operations are done in-house before they sell their products to wholesalers. Just as before, be as specific as possible.

Local Wholesalers (step 5) buy products from the Distributors and warehouse the items until it is sold to Retailers (step 3) whom we buy our products from. There can be more than one wholesaler for a product in the local area depending on the policies of the Distributor. Find out who the wholesaler is and where they stock their products. Are there any special requirements for storing these products? (For example, ice cream needs to be stored in a refrigerated warehouse whereas pulleys do not.) How do the wholesalers receive the items? Do they get them in containers, boxes, pallets, etc? Describe their operations.

Retailers are the stores we purchase products from. They are responsible for receiving the products from the Wholesalers, unpacking them, individually pricing them, and putting them up on shelves. Retailers are the last line in the chain from natural resources to your hands. Find out what they must do to get the products from the wholesalers to the shelf and finally into your hands and out the door. Some things to consider are unloading, unpacking, inventory, pricing, stocking, and running the cash register.

Other Tips and Considerations

This research project can be as simple or complex as you would like to make it. Consider though that a large portion of the judging will be done on how in-depth you go. Ask yourself the questions, "Where did it come from?" and "How did it get here?" At every step of the process you will find infinite amounts of material to research. Let's take the example of the metal pulleys from above. If the iron used to make the pulleys require a special mining tool or require the use of a special rail car to carry the ore, find out what they are, who makes them, and why they are special.

Getting access to information

Contact managers and supervisors of the companies you are researching. Explain your project to them and ask for a few minutes of their time. Try to schedule a quick tour of their operation and ask about any special handling and storage operations that must be done for your particular item. Take good pictures and notes.

You will likely find that the further away from Guam you get the harder it will be to get good information. See if you can get your retailer to put you in contact with someone from their wholesaler. Many have personal relationships with each other and you may get more access than if you just approached them out of the blue. Do the same with the distributor and manufacturer. Manufacturers will usually have a public relations department who may help you with your research.

Don't forget about the paperwork

There are large amounts of work required to get products to market from people who have never touched or even seen the product they are selling. Some examples of this are the accountants and the purchasing officers, without them there would be no product on the shelves.

Be Thorough and Specific!

We can give you no better advice than to be as thorough and specific as possible. In our pulley example, stating that it is made of "Chrome Vanadium Steel" will earn more points than just "steel" or "metal" since there are many different types of steel alloys available.

Format and style

Your research paper needs to be organized into an essay format with a PowerPoint presentation. To ensure fairness in judging, the reports will be reviewed in a blind process and we ask that you do not use your name or likeness (picture, video of yourself, etc) in presenting your reports.


A part of any good research project is citing your references. It is imperative to identify all sources of information whether they are from written sources, interviews, or pictures. When citing sources, include the following:

Interview - Name and position, company, date of interview, and contact information.
Written sources (books, magazines, newspapers, internal documents, etc.) - Title, Author(s), copyright/date published, pages.
Pictures (From a book or other publication) - see written resources section above. (All other photos)- Location, Date, and Photographer.

Getting Help

We encourage all applicants to seek assistance from parents, teachers, counselors, and other members of the community. This project is not a simple one. However, keep in mind that all finalists will undergo an interview process to ensure that the work submitted is yours.

Questions and clarifications

If you should have any questions on your research project, feel free to email us at [email protected]. Be sure to include your name, phone number, email address, and your question and we will contact you as soon as we can.

We wish you good luck and look forward to seeing your project.