It’s quite common in China for purveyors of similar items to group together geographically. As a result, some rural cities become known as “the place” to manufacture certain items. For example, Baigou, in northern Hebei Province, manufactures bags and all the accessories associated with them. Keqiao, in southern Jiangsu Province, is the place for fabric.
I once visited three Wujiang factories in one day – each a very different experience. On this trip I was visiting factories that produced heat-transfer papers – printed papers that, when applied to plain cloth in a certain way, transfer their design to the fabric.
The factory warehouse was dirty and disorganized, the small office had a broken window and a distinct cigarette smell, and next door, rolls of printed paper were piled haphazardly. The factory area was dingy and dirty (piles of dust an inch deep could be found in back corners). The owner seemed only vaguely interested in our business, and hurried us away to lunch – a lavish meal he put on for the visiting foreigner. He brought his own flask-sized bottle of whisky and toasted everything until the bottle was finished. Upon our return to the factory, he disappeared – then we were actually able to get some work done.
This company was more high-tech. They sold electronic print designs to factories and apparel designers. Computers around the room were linked to the special printer which produced heat-transfer paper, and there were constantly new print jobs going on. A small press made take-home swatches. The offices appeared to be for factory owners, police, and other VIPs to smoke and chat while waiting for the work to be finished next door. We only saw the boss once when he wandered through to survey his domain and point out the foreigner to his guests.
This company’s warehouse was packed with rolls of heat-transfers paper. A press transferred the prints to rolls of cloth which were then delivered to customers. We arrived late in the evening and the press was still running loudly, pouring out steam. A truck arrived and staff began loading it with rolls of newly pressed fabric. Despite all the activity, the boss was generous with his time. When we asked for small sample swatches, he gave us large swatches. He was courteous and accommodating, despite the fact he was clearly busy with an outgoing shipment.
This day was eye-opening for me. Although the first factory was the dirtiest they received the majority of our business. Their product matched our need best; everything else we could work around. No matter how gracious the third factory’s host is, we will not buy from him unless his offerings benefit our customers. Without a product that meets your customer’s need all the customer service in the world won’t create sales.
What about you?
Have you visited a “product city” like this? Share your own factory tale with us.