Understanding where the majority of the people live in the World’s most populous nation gives deeper understanding on many of the obstacles faced in China sourcing and manufacturing.
Spirit of Unity Between Vendor and Buyer: From a foreign importer’s perspective; Chinese suppliers can seem tricky, hard to nail down and you’re never quite sure where you stand on level of importance. That doesn’t go on everywhere in China and the main reason you feel that way is exactly because that’s how “outsiders” are treated in the Chinese mind. I described a similar concept in the recent posting “Roots”. Just like locals in a big city enjoy more benefits, it’s the same for the locals in
the countryside. The main difference being, the majority of people in the countryside are from the countryside; not transplants.
Compared to the big cities, the countryside is a tighter, cohesive environment. One way this is evident is the fellowship shown between clerk and walk-in customer, or, for example, restaurant owner and patron. The proprietors take the time to know their customers and establish a relationship. Word of mouth is widely used: not so much location and certainly not advertising. The big city businesses thrive because of population. The countryside businesses thrive because people like to go there. With some of the recent “food scares” in China, the distrust is bigger in the metropolitan areas then out in the sticks (although the problem is there in both places, patrons in the country feel they are getting a more straight-up deal).
Keep that same spirit of unity when you source and manufacture here. Endeavor to establish a level of comradery with your export suppliers. Although you may be manufacturing in the larger hubs of the Eastern seaboard, do your best to approach the situation with an attitude, of how can I help this supplier in the same way I want them to help me. This would exponentially increase the “smoothness” factor of your China projects. This doesn’t start from seeing how many different suppliers you can get “quckie price quotes” and then never following up.
Trusted merchandise and assurance in buying: On a similar note, stuff you buy in the countryside can be better quality. From hand-woven silks to intricately carved decorations or even baby clothes – folks have a bigger confidence when buying in their hometowns in the country than in buying from the city. To the Chinese as to most folks all over the world, cities are known for wider range of shopping and more selection. But cities can also be known for shoddier merchandise at a high price from a vendor or retailer that doesn’t care about their customers.
In the countryside you still find folks, in older age brackets that continue to work and apply their craft. In contracts the city is full of younger folks that tend to live like deer caught in the headlights on first-time “away from home excursions”. Reputation and name value in small towns hold a big sway. In the big cities, there is a prevalent attitude, “more customers will always come” and many times it reflects in service.
Keep that in mind in your factory sourcing. A smaller plant in the less-developed areas of the country is going to have its problems like all Chinese factories. But, they tend be ran by someone or persons who are craftsmen in their trades.
You get more value for buck (yuan) in the countryside. The city is expensive, not great quality, small portions. The countryside has gems of reliable quality, ample portions and a “kuai” goes much further.
Less connected to what’s going on in the big city and subsequently the outside world: During my time in the Chinese countryside, I noticed how isolated they were from the larger cities and outside world. This can be a double-edged sword in manufacturing. Their lack of focus on the hustle and bustle of the bigger cities can lead to a closer-knit relationship with their buyers, while focusing heavily on quality and hopes of repeat orders. They will value a client more. At the same time their isolation can lead to weird concepts on safety and certification, ie undermining some of the non-production aspects of production in thinking it’s not important.
I enjoy remembering and talking about the off-beaten paths of China. Off-beaten in the sense that most expats don’t travel there, but these are still home to a mass of folks.
How about you – have you been to the countryside in China for any extended time?
If you manufacture do you work with or have you visited any of the out of the way places?
What differences, advantages or negatives have you come across?