When importing from China, assumption is the buyer’s worst enemy.  Here are 4 things to ask your Chinese supplier.

Don’t hesitate to ask your supplier questions, give reminders and double-confirm points. Even spend time going over what you may consider “the obvious”.

What’s obvious in one culture or work environment is not obvious in another.

Basic but Insightful Supplier Questions

As always my posts are geared to the promotional product and ad specialty industries.  But these reminders may help with other markets.

“Will this quoted price achieve the branding we need?”

Your logo may be a fancy, full-color job that a normal print process cannot achieve.  There may be an additional process needed to make sure the logo doesn’t scratch off with minimal effort.  Did the supplier consider all factors when quoting?

Typically when a Chinese factory quotes a job, ESPECIALLY if they get wind that this is for the promotional products industry, they are quoting the lowest common denominator; low-cost, low-grade material, how to make the most money at the least expense, etc….

Maybe assorted colors throughout the item is part of your branding scheme. Did the supplier take this in to account or once you go back, ready to move on that price, they will say, “Oh, we only considered one color.”

In the suppliers’ mind, the quoting process is stage 1 in discussions, in delving in to the job and hashing it out. In the buyer’s mind, they assume the quote was considered as accurately as possible.

Give your supplier a bullet-point list of expectations and have them confirm that the quoted price can achieve your goals.

“How will this sample differ from production?”

Here is a common scenario;  the order is placed and you receive the pre-production sample, you confirm the sample, you get the order and something is different.  It’s not necessarily a bad-quality different, but a difference either way. Or although it’s not a bad-quality different, it could be a difference detrimental to the brand. It’s a difference you didn’t expect and a difference the end-user won’t be pleased with or may not accept.

Before you sign off on that pre-production sample, find out from the supplier, “how will this sample differ from mass production?”

Many times material is available for a sample that isn’t available for mass production or vice versa.  Sometimes a sample is made by a smaller machine, a different process or handmade, thus giving the sample a different look.

An experienced importer considers there are going to be some variations from the pre-production sample and the mass production. But for the glaring differences, ask your supplier in advance to spotlight the differences. This will give you the chance of informing your buyer on the front end or letting the factory know that the planned difference is unacceptable.

On the flip-side you can let the supplier know, what aspects of the sample must be in the mass production.  Don’t assume mass production will be the same as the sample, don’t assume some random characteristic won’t change for whatever reason.

But, do consider and make provision for slight variations (usually when a buyer is shocked by slight variations betwixt sampling and mass production, that comes from not understanding production and offshore manufacturing).

“I know you’re waiting on my confirmation to start production, but is there any aspect that cannot change?”

Here is another all-too-common scenario.  The factory says that have not started production and are waiting for your sign-0ff.  You inform them you got the sample and…

-[Buyer]  I want to change the color.

-[Factory]  That’s difficult to do, we purchased material and there will be big cost and delay.

-[Buyer]  We need to change the logo.

-[Factory] We’ll we already printed all the material swatches, we’re just waiting on assembly.

When a supplier tells you they haven’t started production, that ambiguous statement may not mean what you think it means. The real question from you should be, “when do we go past the point of no return?”.

Find out your “points of no return” (material purchasing, printing, 3rd vendor action etc…) and strive to not let the factory go that far until you are sure you and your buyer are ready for them to do so.  Don’t think so much of production started / not started, but get to know processes and what step is what and when it takes place.  This is part of  true production control.

Don’t expect the factory to hold your hand the whole way through;  they’re like a big machine. The factory’s main concern is production in, production out.

“You quoted 20 days for the delivery time;  20 days is from when to when?”

So the supplier confirmed a million times that the project takes 20 days. But when does this 20 days start?  From the time you issue the PO? The time you send the copy of the payment? Or the time they actually received the payment? If you don’t have your communication lines down, you can lose a whole chunk of time just trying to sort through that.  And don’t expect on the sales person you’re dealing with from the trade company or factory to give you a thoroughly straight answer. Much of it depends on the accounting department (the boss’s wife) the production line and other variables.

On the back end did that quoted delivery time include the time they wait for your balance payment?  Or did it include transportation to the port and if it is a sea shipment was the “closing date” considered in all that.

If you don’t hit the port at the right time and know your closing date (which in short is the day the goods have to be at port to pass through customs to hit the next sailing date) then you could potentially lose 10 days.

I’ve seen many an order go south when it came to delivery time, not because of the manufacturing but because of the payment and logistics details.

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