He starts out by saying that when you first start working with Chinese suppliers, you may notice a need to change certain habits.
It is very important to define the product requirements in the smallest details, including the labeling and the packaging.
I’m with him here! It’s important not to make assumptions. Don’t rely upon the supplier’s “common sense”. The problem with this isn’t that your supplier is “stupid” but rather that he doesn’t know what you’re thinking. You have a clear idea in your head of what a label should look like, whether you realize it or not. It may be that you think it “obvious” what a label should look like. If you do not communicate these specifics clearly, don’t complain when the supplier goes with his own assumptions of what makes for a good label!
Labeling and packaging are aspects of production we have changed our system on over time. Originally, all product was shipped to our warehouse where we did our own quality control and per-piece inspection, before labelling and packaging every piece by hand, ensuring no mistakes. At the time, this was something our supplier could not handle to a standard which was acceptable to us. Over time, as we have trained our supplier and improved other aspects of production, we have moved more of the labeling and packaging tasks to the production factory. When punctuality, quality, quantity, and color tolerances were all happening well, we added these extra jobs.
Quality and timing are never guaranteed. Expect a very bad experience, and you might be pleasantly surprised.
If by “expect a bad situation” he means “plan for the worst” then I am in total agreement! Things go wrong. It happens. It happens when you’ve made the same product at the same factory with no problems before. It happens when you have time to recover and when you don’t. Having a contingency plan ahead of time saves time and stress when those unforeseen problems crop up. Some questions to think about:
- What will I do if the product is not ready on time?
- When do I need it, as opposed to when I want it?
- How will I respond if product quality is unacceptable?
- How do I prioritize different production values (punctuality, cost, quality…)?
- What scenario would force me to cancel the order?
Monitor production closely and micro-manage the whole process.
Yes, yes, yes! Keep in regular contact with your supplier – make sure you know the specifics of what’s happening with production. This kind of micro-managing helps not because your supplier is not going to look out for you (although that can be the case on occasion) but rather that your supplier may well have a different set of values to you. He may value punctuality over quality, or price over time – whereas your values may be opposite. This shows out when things go wrong (which they inevitably do, eventually, even to the most reliable of suppliers). When a choice has to be made -such as “I can either get them done on time OR at the price/quality promised” – the supplier will do what seems best to HIM, which may not be your own preference.
If you know what’s going on at every step of production, you have a chance to step in and make those calls yourself, rather than finding out weeks later what the supplier decided to do. We have several times averted what could have been problematic issues simply by asking specific questions and letting our preferences/values be known. When production was inevitably delayed, we knew early enough to accomodate the delay, rather than promising a delivery date to our own buyers we would later find out we could not keep.
Don’t take everything they tell you for granted. Once production is under way, in 50% of cases you are not told the truth.
I don’t entirely agree here. Although there certainly are unscrupulous suppliers out there who will lie and cheat and do whatever they can to make a fast buck, these “deceptions” aren’t always so malicious in intent. Sometimes it is simply a case of different priorities, leadership styles, or manners of dealing with conflict. While it is good to assume you don’t have the whole story, let it be a healthy awareness rather than an overly suspicious nature.
Don’t promise anything beyond the next order. It is useless. Your counter-party thinks short-term and in a distributive manner (“there is a pie to share, and I want the bigger half”).
Again, I’m not in total agreement here. I absolutely believe you should never promise a future order you can’t guarantee you’ll be placing with your current supplier, longterm relationships are very beneficial. Saying you are going to place an order later won’t gain you any extra leverage with your current problems, but a history of placing regular orders will. Chinese suppliers look more at your past history than at future possibilities. While this means you have no benefit when starting out, it does mean there is benefit in sticking with an imperfect but proficient supplier rather than constantly looking for a better supplier every time. Over time, a supplier will learn your values, know what details you get upset over, and future orders (and problems) will be worked through more smoothly. (This is especially true when you work with smaller factories).
I remember working with a buyer who had set up a very strong (nearly bullet-proof) system for avoiding getting burned. . .He had a theory that once a relationship has turned sour–for whatever reason–he’d better cut his costs and stop everything right away with the supplier in question. I saw first-hand how brutally he acted against a poor supplier who had committed an involuntary mistake. . .That supplier got about 100,000 USD worth of product cancelled, and the importer lost a relatively good supplier. The bottom line is to try to understand the real situation. It is not easy, but it is far better than assuming the worse and resorting to knee-jerk reactions.
Here’s the important part – if you persevere through small/unintentional mistakes, problems that come from ignorance or bad planning rather than from malicious intent, you can train your supplier over time, improving their quality while building a relationship. Giving up at the first small sign of trouble means you’ll never realize the benefits of a long-term supplier relationship.
Do you have any long-term relationships with suppliers you cherish?
How have your supplier relationships changed over time?