Importer or Team Leader

  • Importer or team leader is the question you ask yourself when you find your factory not following what you think you requested.

When you source, manufacture and buy from an offshore supplier, are you simply an importer doing a task or will it be more advantageous to view yourself as a team leader? 

So basically, I send in my payment and then they’ll manufacture the order and then once it’s complete, I’ll send my balance and that’s all it takes, right?

Consider in your China sourcing endeavors, the amount of tasks and requirements that are intertwined with a successful project.

  • Administration
  • Sign-offs
  • Communication and Accessibility
  • Logistics
  • Project management. Establishing directives and goals and then assuring BOTH sides, supplier and importer are hitting their goals.
  • How many of these tasks are solely the responsibility of the importer? Is there anything on that list that’s only the supplier’s responsibility?

    In China manufacturing, the entire relationship between buyer and supplier is frequently disconnected.

    The importer wants to order with the ease of buying locally and assumes the supplier “should know what to do” and that everything is handled.

    The supplier, due to capability and deep cultural characteristics, operates from a to-do list mentality and wants see how much they can proceed on bare minimum investment (whether thought, energy or resources).

    All this leads to nasty scenarios of delays, poor interaction and ultimately substandard manufactured goods.

    To some extent, the buck stops with the importer

    A safer and more comprehensive view is to see the supplier working FOR you in the sense of a leader (importer) and production team (supplier). This is instead of the traditional buyer / supplier view.

    When importers start seeing their supplier first and foremost as the production department, then it becomes clearer to the importer what tasks should be delegated to the supplier, what tasks should be spearheaded by the buying side and what tasks are ongoing between both sides.

    Establish realistic parameters and delegate the appropriate tasks.

    At the risk of stating the obvious, the supplier is primarily responsible for safe and quality manufacturing. Therefore you want avoid bogging them down with secondary tasks that’s going to remove their focus from the main thing.

    The supplier is an extension of your production department, not your administration dept or your “reminder squad.”

    If the supplier is responsible for safe and quality product, then it’s your responsibility to assure the standard is set and both sides are crystal clear on the required specifications.

    From the beginning of a project, establish expectations

    So often when dealing with China, even the best suppliers suffer from the bare minimum mentality (laid out above), so what you want to do is realize this and inspire the supplier to see your vision.

    List your expectations to your supplier from the beginning. Even after you’ve gone over these from the beginning, the supplier probably will not get it and adapt the first time, or the second time, or the….

    Working with China requires a lot of what I call “shampoo instructions”. Rinse and Repeat. If you think you can tell your supplier or employee or teammate something 1 time and they got it or they will self research, then you’re going to be disappointed.

    A team is only as good as its leader. You have to consider, when contracting a vendor to manufacture your orders, the supplier becomes an extension of your company. So many importers and distributors discuss on their website how they have this intricate network of global suppliers. But when they contact this supposedly pre-establish “network”, they treat it solely as an us and them mentality. But wait, wait, I thought this was your global network?

    What healthy organization has leaders that do not communicate and update the team? If you want your supplier to communicate with you, you have to communicate with them. Show them via example and via direct firm request how you expect to be updated.

    You won’t find a thriving organization that thinks every other department is supposed to handle something (without proof that they have agreed or are capable of handling).

    An importer motivates their supplier. Keep in mind that the sales contact you frequently speak with; they ain’t making a lot of money. The factory workers make less.What incentive have you given for them to serve you any better?

    You establish a loyalty with your contact by clarity in instruction, non-combative communication, guidance and repeat business.

    If you’re an importer that’s having trouble with suppliers, then you’re a team leader that’s having trouble leading.

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