Before you start the project, here are 6 questions to ask in China sourcing.

Without covering your bases, the project could be problematic or dead out the gate.

Question 1:  Can the supplier I’ve selected manufacture what I need?

Buyers spend a large amount of time in sourcing, establishing the relationship with the Chinese vendor, trading emails, hashing out the quote, sending artwork and specs and eventually getting samples started.

Lot of work, huh?

Anticipated samples arrive and the samples are wrong.

The 2nd set of samples arrive and the samples are wrong…again!

It turns out the supplier, although seemed like they understood your specs, they didn’t.

And they didn’t understand your specs, because they cannot produce your specs. They were understanding based inside their own understanding of what understanding means.

Get it?

It turns out they simply cannot manufacture what you need. They are not equipped or whatever the reason may be.


Visiting the factory would be the greatest answer to this question. But assuming you are not able to visit the factory (as most buyers in the promotional product and retail brand industries do not for their multitude of inquiries); there are various ways to decrease the possibility of going too far with an incapable vendor.

Example #1:  Before all the initial work and back-and-forth, send the vendor a physical sample. If it is not possible to send a physical sample, then send as-detailed-as-possible renderings.

Send the sample or renderings to the supplier and ask them very clearly, “if we order this from you, will it be same as our sample or what differences will there be?”

Then whatever they say will be different, decide if the difference is minimal enough to proceed.

I think part of the problem is buyers wait until too late to reveal their idea/design and in the initial stages, they go off only the supplier’s words and understanding.

(*notice in the above, I do not advise to tell the supplier to “duplicate” the sample. This could cause the supplier to be stuck inside a box in their thinking and think that exact duplication is the only possibility, when in reality a slight difference in an area may be perfectly acceptable. Also if you say duplicate, and they say “possible”, there still will be differences, most likely. Get those differences out in the open from the beginning.)

Example #2:  Use what I call, good ol’ fashion horse sense. Before you start the heavy proceedings, study the vendors’ website. Do they look like a company that manufactures what you need or do they seem to only be selling hopes of learning how to manufacture what you need? Are they a niche vendor in that arena? They may be young and “web-savvy” but are the “manufacturing-savvy”?

Example #3:  Have the factory send you images of items they produced that are similar to yours. Check to see if there is a consistency in the images. If the images all of have different background and looks; they could be images that were pulled off the web.

Ask the factory questions about manufacturing the item and see if they have understanding of processes or if they are just fudging around the words.

Question 2:  Will the supplier agree to my terms?

If I’ve seen this once, I’ve seen it 1000 times. Everything goes smooth as silk in the initial phases. Price is good, sample is signed-off and the buyer is locked and loaded to start that order.

The buyer sends their purchase order to the supplier.

The supplier sends an invoice to the client….but wait!

The supplier’s invoice says this specific payment term, but my Purchase Order states a different payment term!

My Purchase Order for the mold states that the mold fully belongs to us to transfer away from their factory to our own location. When I brought this up to the sales person during our skype chat, they said something that sounded like “no, no, no” and then giggled nervously at me!

Payment terms, conditions, propriety, all these are questions to ask in China sourcing from the very beginning. Do not wait until it gets too far along to then make your expectations clear.

If you wait until time to order, the supplier will have more of an upper hand in negotiating.

Question 3:  Do I have time? Has the supplier agreed to and can they fulfill the time I need?

In the promotional product business, timing is everything and missing a date can cause a perfectly produced project to be useless.

Have you hashed out your timing parameters from the beginning?

When the supplier said 30 days, that’s when to when? Does that include in-land timing to port? Does it include sea transit?

How to answer these timing questions from the beginning?

Have the supplier confirm to you the exact mass production days. You let them only worry about mass production days. From the time of the deposit, when can the goods LEAVE the factory? That’s what the factory should spearhead.

You work backwards: OK, I need the goods in-hand on this date. Pull out your markers and white board and make a chart. Consider all contingencies.

-from the Los Angeles port to the buyer’s warehouse takes this many days.
-once it arrives to Los Angeles port to the time the goods are ready to ride on truck en route to warehouse (ie customs clearance and unloading), takes this many days.

…. you get my point. If it looks like it’s too tight and a delayed delivery will cause you to sell the farm, abort mission. If timing is sufficient or if the supplier can agree to fewer mass production days and move you up, then rock n’ roll.

Oh yeah, make sure if you think the supplier agreed to decrease timing, the supplier is clear on what they agreed to; confirmed factory departure date is in writing and you see some form of evidence (plan laid out) how this is possible.

If the supplier says they can turn 30 days mass production into 20 days, you really need to have a solid, clear understanding on how that is possible. Do not forsake reality in hopes of achieving a tight delivery time simply because you neglect to ask the right questions!

Question 4:  Can this item ship via the method I need it to ship?

Here’s a doozy. You plan on sending an urgent shipment by air express. But the item cannot go by air shipment channels.

It has dangerous or magnetic material and yes it can go by air, but only via special routes and in limited quantity and only via certain airports.

This is not what you want to find out when it is time for the goods to leave the factory, thus the need for proper questions.

Question 5:  Will this item be able to leave Chinese customs?

Is there any reason China customs may be an obstacle on this one? Does the item have a famous brand or marking on it such as Disney or Marvel? Send letters of authorization to both the supplier and the logistics company towards the start of the project.

Question 6:  Will this item be able to enter USA customs? What’s the cost? What’s the possible hindrance?

Is everything you are bringing in certain to clear United States customs? Or the customs of your country? Is there any documentation I need to prepare in advance?

Have your customs duty clarified in advance and DO NOT rely on your vendor to accurately confirm this. I don’t care if they export the item every week to your own country. It is still better that YOU find out the duty rate yourself.

Asking the right questions, saves $!

I saw a recent case where item was considered a violation of anti-dumping and the fee, in order to release the goods, was a 600% increase on the invoice…yikes!

Let me know what you think. From your experiences, what are other questions to ask in China sourcing – especially in the beginning phases?