If you’ve worked with China in the manufacturing and sourcing sector, you know the skill involved in navigating through the multitude of suppliers factories, vendors, agents and trade companies that are out there.  In short, the challenge is understanding Chinese suppliers.  Any importer who tells you they’ve got it figured out is full of beans.Understanding their thinking, motives, what makes them tick, why they did what they did, do they want your business, do they hate your guts; all challenging to grasp.  Building this bridge undoubtedly smooths your progress and creates results.

Point of View:

Suppliers in China have trouble understanding the concept that someone may be a buyer and serving a customer, brand or corporation.  A buyer may not necessarily be an expert on the product, but they know what they want and what they need.  The more educated you are as a buyer, the better.  And not just “the better” but profoundly “better” because this will increase your control over the order.

You have to control your order,  suppliers, for the most part are not going to proactively take the “bull by the horns”. (and keep in mind, most of what I discuss is from my years of manufacturing for the promotional product and low-cost item industries).

Suppliers discuss everything from their point of view.  Suppliers and especially direct factories expect you to know as much about the product as they do.  From their perspective, you are buying the product and you should know that this is possible, this is not possible, this is more expensive, this process is longer, etc..  On this point, it’s hard to blame them.

As a buyer you wonder many times, “why didn’t they tell me?“.  They are thinking, “how did you not know?”.

If a buyer is uneducated on a product, it can make a factory nervous, because more responsibility is in their hands to “get it right”.  A factory’s best case is that they have a buyer giving them direction and able to sign off on every action.

Information flows like molasses:  

Or not at all….

In China information is guarded and priceless.  From the pauper to the king, people are tight-lipped and this is 100% a cultural characteristic.  The average person in whatever job doesn’t think to share, to inform, to update, to include you in the thought process, to swap ideas.  This brings up memories of when I would conduct a meeting in my own company in China, it was mainly me or one person talking while everyone is just sitting their listening, acting like they are listening, or staring off in to space.

If they offer their ideas, they may think they are being rude or pretentious…

If they say something you may be offended….

If they suggest a process that doesn’t work, they may lose face…

This kind of thinking, among many other back-and-forth thoughts goes through their mind before they speak.  It’s an extreme mental tug-of-war and so by the time it’s finished, the speaking-boat has sailed.  Or they give up altogether and no longer consider offering their own input.

Regardless of Problems Found, This Gal Won’t Pass Info Down the Line

Things would happen in my own company and I would ask the teammate, why wasn’t this mentioned?  Their response was, “I thought about it but…” (fill in the blank).  It’s almost in the simplest of terms, a social awkwardness.

Now apply this to your manufacturing situation.  Suppliers in China, the sales kid who just got out of the university, the factory rep who is from a poorer area and now having to deal with what they may feel is a “high profile Westerner”, go through this same communication blockage.

Many time, they didn’t even know something was worth informing the buyer.  Perhaps your grade of material is really important but they couldn’t locate it within the material markets, so they elected a different material or different grade – they say nothing about it.  Why?  They honestly didn’t feel it was worth bringing up, because in China, it wouldn’t really be something discussed.  You may think, “they didn’t bring it up because it was a cheaper option”.  Not necessarily.  We’ve had factory partners before do an incredible fire-extinguishing job for us and not mention a word about it.  Many importers don’t have a clue of the good things the factory does for them; only the negative, because the negative tends to stand out.

Share with us some of your experiences or educate us in how you manage your Chinese vendors and communication barriers.