Tip 1: Don’t get immediately happy about good news and don’t get immediately upset about bad news. Information in China has a way of changing within minutes. Keep an even keel.
Tip 2: Pay on time. Make a timely payment your responsibility and keep track of when the payment is due in order to depart, close customs and ship on time. Obviously all this is contingent on assurance that your production is good quality.
Tip 3: Don’t assume. Don’t assume the supplier knows what you mean. Don’t assume they know what a particular item should look like for a particular market. Don’t assume something easy will be easy. Don’t assume your supplier will do what you consider to be the “right thing”. China has low-cost manufacturing for a reason.
Tip 4: Realize you’re importing from China and not buying from a vendor across the street. The Chinese vendor, no matter how many orders you’ve given them, no matter how big you told them you are, no matter how big you are, they, for the most part, don’t care about the same things you care about. Keep it professional, keep it friendly, and stay alert. Your Chinese vendor is largely in the dark as to how “company cultures” and corporations work in the West. They don’t understand professionalism as it’s understood in the West. Their definition of professionalism and yours is completely different…not even on the same page of the dictionary.
Tip 5: Don’t be a legalist. Your supplier will make mistakes and they may make a lot of mistakes. The Chinese are not accustomed to taking responsibility for mistakes and if you switch vendors every time there are errors, you’ll be changing vendors faster than you change underwear (never one person’s or one company’s fault…always something that just “happened”…). I’ve worked with few Chinese suppliers that started out professional, didn’t make many small errors and the occasional large mess-up. Staying with them and seeing them through the problem will create a bit of loyalty from their end, thus increasing the purchasing power. The idea of “getting things right the first time” doesn’t exist in China (on a side note, I don’t think it exists that much in the West…at least not as much as everyone likes to act like it exists…different topic, different day).
Not blaming a Chinese employee or vendor for mistakes is more meaningful to them than trying “to be their buddy”. For the most part, they don’t want to be your buddy.
Tip 6: Make logistics your responsibility and use your vendor to assist. Placing logistics fully in their hands will distract them from their main thing. A good rule of thumb in China, a place with so many people, is for each worker to have a “main thing”. Multi-tasking, “wearing many hats”, taking on additional responsibility is not a major concept in the Middle Kingdom. It’s the same on a company level; let your factory or supplier produce, you take most of the logistical headache from them.
Tip 7: Visit the factory and check your goods; either personally, someone from your company or via a 3rd party QC. Don’t assume the factory will provide you with photo documentation of the order. Factories have trouble using a digital camera….you can fight and negotiation with them for days on end to provide photos and when they finally send it, it looks like they took it in the dark, drunk and upside down.
Tip 8: Don’t judge your supplier based on a “stock” sample. Suppliers are horrendous at cataloging work; whether electronically or physically via samples. A stock sample they send you could be an old dusty piece off the shelf and from 2004. A stock sample is no indication of what they will do on your order.
A lot of things can go wrong in China manufacturing because you convince yourself that everything is OK. Don’t do that. My advice is to micro-manage in the early stages of a new vendor or new project until you learn what the factory will and can handle on their own. Obviously you’ve got to release some trust to your vendor or else you’ll go bonkers. But do it in stages. This goes back to assumptions; don’t assume they’ve got something handled – double-check everything.
Feel free to share any tips here; what you’ve found to be helpful during your China work.