By Li Zhang
Sampling, after the RFQ phase is part of the foundational to the start to a China manufacturing project. Concerns and setbacks during the sample phase, prove the project to be starting on shaky ground. If sampling is smooth and gives keen insight into the product and type of supplier you’re working with, then you’re on the right path.
1- Get a Sampling Cost in the Supplier’s Initial Quote
Have the supplier quote you for the cost of sampling in the initial quote file.
Keep in mind this price is subject to change because the truth is, until you tell the supplier, “hey, we’re ready to start sampling”, they’re not going to closely analyze the cost. That’s just the way it is.
But this way, you’ll have something on the table and they’ll know you’re serious about next steps.
2- Cost of Sample Usually is Setup and Physical Piece
Especially in the promotional product industry, there seems to be a parsing of the setup cost and and cost of the physical piece.
When it comes to China importing, I advise not to get too detailed on this point and neither will the factory. Generally when the factory quotes the sample cost, it’s the complete sample; physical piece and perhaps special characteristics discussed during the quote process.
It’s quite possible the factory doesn’t consider everything when providing the initial sample costs.You may want to double-check that the factory did indeed did include everything in the quote. Like any quote or piece of info from a Chinese vendor, it doesn’t hurt to double-confirm that it includes everything.
Not only do you want to do this to make sure you cost is accurate, but obviously, you don’t want to wait weeks and then receive an incomplete sample. You ask the factory “why is this not complete?” and they say “we didn’t quote that”.
What the factory definitely didn’t include (unless you asked) is the freight!
3- Don’t Be Cheap When it Comes to Paying
Nothing gets a project off to a wrong start than when a buyers tries to over negotiate on paying sample costs.
Of course if the supplier is being unreasonable, that’s a different story.
But the project is viable, if the China supplier is to see it’s worth investing the time and energy into sampling, then buyers shouldn’t have a problem with investing.
Professionally ask the supplier if any part of the sampling fee is refundable upon ordering. Doesn’t this show willingness to invest and then a reward on back-end for bringing the order?
4- Did You Provide the Supplier All Necessary Info
If you give the green light to start the process, go back and double-check all correspondence, making sure proper specs were passed.
Sometimes during the RFQ process, the original concept transforms into something different than it was at the beginning. Some detail is added, other is scratched.
Which version is your vendor going off of? Make sure the supplier has an up-to-date requirement list and even a final digital mockup.
Again, the more thorough and accurate information you provide, the more accurate you can expect the factory to handle the project and get you a sample that will close the deal.
5- Request Updates During Sampling Process
Don’t by shy to requests updates during the sampling process. Suppliers generally are not great with updates during orders, much less the sampling process.
For example and update could be images of the process; once the material is ready or they print the logo.
Why is this important? For one thing, it’s during these type of updates, you can catch if the factory made an error or if something was miscommunicated.
A basic timeline email also makes sense. Something basic enough from the vendor letting you know how many days left before completion. If they don’t freely offer this detail, then you can send an email asking for a timeline update.
6- Don’t let the supplier treat this as something casual
Chances are, the sampling process still needs control from your side. Vendors tend to treat the sampling process, especially the initial sample, with a “casualness”. You give the green light and perhaps make the payment, the vendor says “yeah, yeah, yeah,” and you don’t hear anything for days.
You email asking for an update and they say “oh need more time”.
Then the next thing you know, they email saying, “sample set”. No images, no updates, no tracking #.
Still remain diligent during this process and keep your eyes on your vendor’s performance. How they work during this phase is an indication of their service and quality during mass production.
7- Get final images before confirmation of sending out
Get some final shots from your vendor before they send the piece out. Tell them you want various shots from different angles. Obviously the more complex the item, the more detail you’ll want to see. If you’re doing something basic, you can leave this up to the vendor’s discretion.
How about the packing for the sending the actual piece? I think it’s good for the vendor to send the buyer images of the sample’s actual freight packing.
I especially recommend this if it’s something fragile. Too many cases where the factory made a stellar, custom piece, that has a “fragileness” to it and it arrives broken. The vendor underestimates the necessary packing and UPS and air freight are rough as hell on 1 small package.
Remind them to use very sturdy packaging since it’s just 1 box amidst many in a large shipment.
8- Tracking number, logistics
Vendors, I’m talking to you, this should go without question. When you send a package to a buyer, the first thing you do is send the tracking #. A buyer should never never have to ask you for a tracking #.
If you chose the express method, send the tracking #, the express method and even a link showing where it can be tracked…how’s that for service?
Buyers, if your vendors don’t give you all of that, make sure they do. And continue to train and remind them of this point until it becomes routine.
9- Upon receipt…
Buyers, once the sample arrives, for the love of Pete it doesn’t take but 2 seconds to let your vendor know:
“We received the sample and will let you know feedback asap”. It’s just good form.
If there’s something broken or disastrous, take images and send to the vendor. Sending an email that says “it arrived damaged / incorrect / crappy” without proof and evidence doesn’t help the vendor draw conclusions or look for a solution.
10- Changes, make it clear
If there are necessary changes, let the vendor know. BUT, don’t do it piecemeal. Sending over changes in waves; for example, some after you’ve seen it, some more changes after your buyer sees it, will be inefficient. Gather all changes in 1 batch and send at once so the vendor can understand it all together.
Sending piecemeal (ie little by little drip drip) will cause the vendor to leave something off either next sampling time or during mass production.
*Bonus: Clear sign-off or no sign-off….what’s next?
Ok, so what’s next? Give the vendor indication.
- We hope to sign off in this many days.
- We received the sample and it’s junk because…
- Samples arrived but the brand decided not to proceed because…
- Here are my changes and here’s next steps as we see them…
Don’t go cold. If you go cold, the factory will too. If you go cold and mucho time passes, the factory may not keep the sampling details in their forefront of their thinking, disorganized files, whatever.
When it’s time to sign-off, they’ll scramble at trying to figure out how that original sample from 4 months back was.
When you start the sampling process, you may want to insist the factory make 2 pieces, 1 for you and 1 for them. Don’t think this is obvious and “of course they will do that”.
Li Zhang has worked in international manufacturing and exporting since 2003. She has served global brands such as Bayer, Coca Cola and Warner Bros. Her background is in design and engineering. Li is a native of Jiangsu Province and currently finds herself back and forth between Suzhou, China and the USA. Contact Li at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find her penning manufacturing thoughts at her blog.