Perhaps if you kept a few things in mind about your China supplier it would add perspective to the entire sourcing process? You may get frustrated a little less. A buyer may remember to add on a few extra sentences to descriptions. The eager importer will recall different world views and then approach projects and problems differently.

A few things to keep in mind about your China supplier

For the most part, when I say “China supplier”, I’m talking about the salesperson you contact with on a daily basis. That fresh-faced youngster or sassy middle-aged gal that answers your emails, speaks to you on Skype at odd hours and that you met at trade shows. I’m not necessarily referring to a factory owner although that may apply.

They’ve probably never soaked up your local culture.

The Chinese are traveling more and more so they are seeing more of the world. But you know how it is when you make quick trips to China. You stay in 4 star hotels, you get carted from factory to trade show by a driver and your pristine feet seldom touch what reality is like in China. A few trips throughout the year, doesn’t necessarily allow you to understand the mentality.

It’s the same when the Chinese travel abroad. They stay in groups, they spend time shopping and there’s not much actual soaking in of local culture.

So if you’re importing products in the South Eastern United States for a hunting and fishing brand, there’s nuances of your branding and culture that they are going to be completely oblivious to. From colors, to verbiage to product usage, these are things the buyer will need to educate the supplier on and continue to educate.

Your product, they don’t use it nor do they see it in the market.

Like I said, depending on what you manufacture and import, the supplier doesn’t see a “speciality hunting tool” or the greatest cooking item, they see, an item, plain and simple. They don’t know why it’s good, they don’t know why it’s bad, they simply see a thing and their job is to get it from point A to point B.

That’s why it’s important to control all aspects of your product; not just look, or feel, but functionality. And this functionality means over a period of time.

The product may look right, fit in the packaging right, but not work. Or it may work for the first month.

Years ago for a major beer brand, I saw a high-end bottle opener manufactured and exported. The bottle opener looked nice, the branding to was top-notch and all was right with the world. Except it was molded wrong and every time someone opened bottles with it, the suds would spray the thirsty user right in their face.

The factory, the importer, the brand all failed to do basic sample tests.

Now if this happens with more run-of-the-mill items, what’s going to happen with items that are more culturally and locally specific?

Don’t leave customer usage testing up to your China supplier, but test things and weigh them in your own market.

Educate your vendor as much as possible on the product. Provide websites showing the product in use, Youtube videos and when you visit the factories, the more you can share, the better.

Your China supplier didn’t grow up watching the same TV shows you did.

That is to say, your supplier in China doesn’t understand the basics behind your

  • Language, jokes or sarcasm.
  • Your ultimate intent. The supplier doesn’t take great risks in working to fill in the blanks. They won’t necessarily grasp “his and her’s towel sets” but will understand if you say “a set of 2 towels, 1 towel with this man print and 1 towel with this lady print – see attached artwork”
  • Corporate / internal / inner office speak.
  • When you indirectly say something is bad or something is good.

In your written communication, you have to boil everything down to bare facts. You want your supplier to understand your market, your production and functionality. But at the same time, they’re not very concerned with management’s perception of the branding department’s internal attempts to blah blah blah.. you see what I’m saying?

I’ve had my own staff read and email from a buyer before and then ask me, “so is what they’re saying a good thing or a bad thing”. You can see how this will screw up mass production, right?

Leave off emotionalism or reduce it to the scantest traces in your professional communication to your vendor. When you visit your vendor and are having face to face discussions, be sure to be repetitive and slow in your explanations. Then follow everything up with an email layout of everything that was said face to face.

What you get out of the order is different than what they get out of the order.

You may get further business from your client. This type of order may be what launches you into successful projects. You get a commission, a margin, or some form of success.

Your supplier, not necessarily. Remember that the goals they have for the orders are not the same as yours. A factory that make polyresin vases, isn’t necessarily a bad job, but not exactly a place where “sky-is-the-limit”.

Just because you may bring repeat orders, doesn’t put the payoff on the same playing field. The factory owner may be living OK, but not necessarily your sales contact. I’m far from a bleeding heart, but it’s helpful to consider your counterpart. Doing so leads to unique ways you learn how to motivate them.

You become a better purchasing partner for them. And it’s all around more fulfilling.

Intentions and motivations are generally the same as yours.

But, to sort of counterbalance what I just said, there are a lot of the same desires behind waking up everyday and hitting the grind.

Both sides have families to feed. Both sides want a better life for their children.

Don’t start the negotiations in thinking the supplier is trying to screw you.

Also avoid approaching production problems from the point-of-view that the supplier did something on purpose.

The China supplier, just like you, wants everything to go right.

As much as they’re able, they’re putting forth their best effort, regardless of the level it is, in making sure the project’s a success.

Is this always the case?

Well, I like to think it is and leads to a decreased stress level on the buyers’ side 🙂