Importers in the promotional product industry directly dealing with China, say how they are “interested in finding a factory.”  In the fast-quoting, rapid-fire world of promos and ad specialty items, are you sure this is your best bet?

It’s an often played out scenario;  the Western buyer tells the eager (and many times very capable) trade company, “no thanks, we are looking for a factory”.  It’s like Ponce de León, looking for the Fountain of Youth.  In some Indiana Jones-style fashion, they are going to hack through brush with their machetes, scale hazardous peaks and cross the roughest terrain.  At the end of the trek, they encounter this shining factory in the middle of an oasis.

This imaginary factory is clean, has cheap prices, certified, approved, has cheap prices, willing, welcoming, fluent in English, has cheap prices, years of experience doing business in your market (except of course never with your competition)….did I mention they have cheap prices?

Oh..and the range of capabilities that this genie in a bottle factory produces;  anything from baseball caps, to plastic injection molding, to tote bags, to ball pen sets, to metallic gifts – all under one roof!

Needless to say, this is a make-believe scenario.  There is no singular factory offering such a range of items.  As with any long-term business strategy, especially in China, it takes considerable effort to lay the foundation.  Develop relationships when you can and if it makes sense.  Relationship development requires time and research.  Most importers in the promotional product industry, especially distributors who don’t import on a regular basis, tend not to invest the necessary chunk of time required for fruitful factory development.  That’s why suppliers and trade companies come in to play.

Factories who find out a buyer is in the promotional product industry, hesitate to solidify the relationship.  The nature of the promotional product beast:  as an importer, you are serving an end-user, whether directly or indirectly and the end-user(s) are constantly moving on to different production, ideas, needs and themes.  One year they are producing backpacks and the next year it’s a wine glass drink set.  It’s a constant change, therefore in one product line, one buyer doesn’t get the luxury of establishing an in-depth relationship or a solid history with one factory.

This is where vendors who are wholesalers and trade companies can better serve the importer:

Large Range of Production:  

It’s not efficient to find a factory for each project when you do a wide range of ad specialty products.  Either find a niche area in certain product ranges or collaborate with a solid company for your whole gambit.

Do They Want You?

Does the factory necessarily want to work with you?  You demand low price and excellent quality.  In China, they call that “Wanting the horse to run, but you don’t want to feed it”.  You also don’t order enough sufficient volume from one factory for the factory to deal with the headaches you give them over your “lofty” expectations.

Factory Motivation:  

Since your orders are not large volumes or repeat orders of one reference, in the grand scheme of things, the production facility is not going to place you on a very high pedestal.  A supplier, such as a wholesale or trade company will offer a much more personal service.


Remember, to the actual production factory, you are never as big as you think you are.  The actual manufacturing facility is like a big machine;  just like you cannot fellowship with a steamroller, it’s also hard to fellowship with a factory.  The factory will accept your order but they also want to quickly spit it out; quality being secondary or a way distant third place.

Eyes & Ears:

A solid supplier with a strong factory network controls China business more effectively than you could ever hope to do so for abroad.  In my own experiences with a Chinese staff and a team that establishes real relationships with our production facilities, I’ve seen Chinese to Chinese interaction accomplish in 1 day… 1 day…what can take an importer more than a week to accomplish from abroad (remake on sampling, confirming key detail, price quotes).  A solid supplier watches every step from sampling, to port, to inland delivery;  all the while keeping eyes on the delivery time.

If the factory thinks you are too small, they will outsource you to another facility or bump you in the production line.  YES, factories also outsource their work to another facility (If Mr. Wang’s cousin needs business and your order is small, he’ll gladly pitch you over to that other place where the power goes out about 3 times a week….he doesn’t care if his cousin does a good job or not)

It goes without saying, by working with a non-factory, a supplier, you do run the risk of finding a schister or incompetent company – but that is par for the course in any global industry.  Due diligence is still required.

There is also a large share of quality vendors that you can position for a pivot point for your overall production and supply program.

While saying you “want to find a factory” or “I only work factory direct”, sounds adventurous, and like you got a leg-up on the competition;  it’s not always realistic.

When a factory decides your are not important and starts treating you like yesterday’s tofu salad;  you will start to wish you had a solid vendor watching your back.