When you’re importing from China, like it or not, the main point of control has to be from the importer. Expecting the factory “to know” can be a very costly assumption. Here are some basic control points that help to assure a smooth order.
Although basic points, they, like many things in life, take discipline to consistently make part of your work habits. What happens, is that basic control points become “routine” and we forget to implement them in our work. This is when problems spring up in the process; either in sampling, production, or the final legs in the logistical phase. Without further adieu…
Educate the Supplier: Did you clearly inform the vendor where these products are going? Is it for an event, for retail, for children? What’s the expected life-span of the product?
You are thinking good quality and 9 times out of 10, they are thinking as cheap as possible. Keep in mind, a low-cost tote bag in China is much, much lower in quality than a low-cost tote bag in the Western world. Although the factory may frequently export, their thinking is local and day-to-day. They don’t consider their own international markets for most cases. Most of the sales people you deal with are not students of the game. They are not “industry savvy” with a love for the business. Many times their jobs are right place, right time sort of thing and probably were hired by their uncle because they speak English.
Keep in mind that most factory workers don’t have a concept of the toy or the promotional item they are making. Aside from a portion of modern-day or new China, the majority of the folks haven’t seen or handled a lot of the merchandise the average Joe sees in the West.
You may be thinking, “yeah, but they’ve produced this before”. That doesn’t matter. There could be a new sales person controlling passing the order from the client to the factory, a new staff on the factory floor or they may have sent out their only sample of the product and are producing the item from memory. There are many variables involved when dealing with China and when importing from China.
Especially in the low-cost industries, factories are notoriously bad at keeping and cataloging data.
Don’t think in terms of “common sense says they would do this”, think more in terms of “I have no idea what weird thing the factory could do so I’ve got to make sure I have a close eye on the processes”.
Ask for Proof: If the supplier says they can produce something or have produced something before; ask for photos. This is simple enough. But any supplier can send any photo from off the web, so stress that you want to see photos of their previous production. If it’s a white-background, clean photo, be suspicious. If possible and if time is on your side, ask for a sample of a previously produced item.
They say they can duplicate your branding requests; ask them how? How will they get from point A from point B?
The same goes with lead times. If factory says it will take 25 days, then ask them to show you how it will take 25 days. Ask specific questions; how many days waiting to get on the production line? how many days for this process? when will this process start?
Use common sense in this area. If the factory has never successfully produced a super-fast order for you before, don’t bet the farm on them doing it this time. If timing will be the deciding factor of you winning the order with your client, you may want to go back and negotiate with your buyer to see if they have extra days or are flexible.
Unless it’s a supplier you highly trust and has done previous fast-turnaround times for you, it’s very risky to base everything on a tight lead time. What if they have a much larger client who is also basing everything on a tight lead time and they have to bump your order to fulfill their larger client’s order?
Speak in Bullet Points, Pictures, Samples and Facts: This point is akin to the above “asking for proof point”.
In your communication, speak to-the-point. I’ve seen the supplier get confused and implement something erroneous in to the production because the buyer was very wordy and the supplier was unable to determine what was important and what wasn’t.
Make your emails bullet-pointed and ask the supplier to reply under each point. If the supplier doesn’t reply to a point, don’t move forward until they do. This takes time, because if you send 6 points, they may respond to 3 or 4 and leave some blank for whatever reason. This doesn’t mean they are clear or got it. This may mean you need to press that point.
Send photos when you can. Don’t rely on your description as much as a photo or a physical sample. Let visuals do the talking. They have different names for different processes than you do.
These kind of control points are foundational vital across the board in importing from China. Regardless of the production, whether promotional products or high-tech components, by implementing this mindset, you’ll have less of a headache.