Samples. You feel good about the quoting process and are ready to move to the next stage.

Here is a list of “sample questions” to ask your supplier when you get to this phase.

Cost of Setup?

Most quotes from suppliers will include the setup cost. Be sure to look for this fee in your quotation.

Sometimes the supplier will call it “sample fee”.

The important thing is, the importer should define with the supplier. what the setup cost means.

Is the setup fee for the plating for the logo?

Is it because the supplier has to order material?

Is it simply a fee for the supplier to put the sample package together and do the work?

Physical Samples Included?

Remember that the concept of “obvious” does not exist in China sourcing, be sure the setup fee includes the cost of physical samples.

I’ve seen it more than once where the setup fee was provided on the quote file and we were ready to move forward. Then the sales contact from the factory informs that the setup fee does not include the cost for the actual sample…only the setup!

This is more prominent with larger items.

Nevertheless, make sure your setup fee includes the cost of the actual physical pieces that ultimately you want the supplier to send to you.

How Many Physical Samples?

Here is another possible stickler. The importer is jazzed that the factory is now proceeding with samples.

Mr. or Mrs. Importer casually send an email saying “oh, yeah, please include 10 pieces of samples”.

But how many pieces of physical samples did the setup feee include? Most likely, unless your item is a small item, 10 pieces were not considered by the vendor.

Define from the beginning…

How many physical pieces are included in the setup cost?

This may be somewhat negotiable, but avoid assuming a large amount of pieces are included in that setup charge. The factory may be willing to produce the additional pieces, but that will increase the setup charge.

If you know in advance that you require a larger than normal number of samples, this should be included in your initial RFQ to the supplier.

What Can Be Customized in The Sample?

Importers get a shock when they are working on a custom project with a vendor, they receive the sample package and their excitement turns to bewilderment when the sample is not as customized as they were hoping.

Why does this happen?

Because, for example, to customize certain aspects takes bulk material purchases (think dyed material).

Or starting certain machine processes that are not worth doing for 2 to 10 units. The supplier should communicate this upfront, but they probably assume you already know this…really.

Sometimes the supplier will do the next best thing. Although they cannot customize an aspect, they may include material swatches in the package.

Take initiative to find out exactly what aspects of the sample will be customized.

If something cannot be customized, what solution can the supplier provide that will give a clear indication of capability?

This may take some negotiation on your part, because, when it comes to sampling, too often, suppliers want to take the path of least effort.

How Will Sampling Differ From Mass Production?

This is a biggie. Find out from your supplier and from your own analysis, what is going to be different than mass production.

If your sample has a pristine white, printed logo, nice and heavy and thick. And the supplier tells you that the sample is done via a hand-process that’s different than the mass production lines, then you know that the logo is going to have some variations.

This is a fact of mass production; there will be some variation from sample to mass production. Via questions and thinking, you need to find out what the variation is and determine if you can live with it.

Mass production is not “cloning” of a sample. It’s different processes, different dynamic. The ideal is mass production equals the sample as much as possible. Occasionally mass production is better.

Remember, there are going to be differences. You need to decide if the difference equals a quality problem.

Misconceptions

“How does a supplier expect to get my business if samples do not flow freely like the river Nile?”

Even if it is a stock piece that the factory has, do not consider they are in the business of sending out freebies.

Although domestic B2B may be more likely to operate in this matter, Chinese factories view it differently.

They do not think their liberality with samples will make or break a sale. If you consider the amount of sample requests Chinese factories receive that do not come to an order, it’s hard to argue with them on this point. But I digress..

“Does the supplier push a button and samples tumble out like a vending machine?”

Ok, nobody literally says this, but with the casualness some importers deal with sample discussions, it seems like they think this. Contrary to belief, the factory floor is not cluttered with samples and the workers are stepping over them.

Samples take investment, resources and time. Buyers would be surprised by how few samples the factories actually keep.

To sum it all up….

Samples are not as easy as a snap of a finger. When starting the sample process, learn how the pieces are made. Learning this phase will further educate you as a buyer in your own importing and sells of the item.

Sampling, like the RFQ phase, is another phase of the order process where you can root out possible problems.

The sampling phase is where you further gauge supplier cooperation and ability.

Wrong steps during this phase, determine if your order gets off the ground and ultimately, the mass production quality.