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7 red flags in China manufacturing

by Jacob Yount

Here are some red flags to look out for in your China Manufacturing projects.

In the quoting, sampling phases or during the mass production process, if you see these flags, be on point and change your course as necessary.

1. Unbelievably good pricing

This is pricing that is largely different than other suppliers’ quotes. Most likely you didn’t find the fountain of youth, you found a supplier who has misunderstood the inquiry or who doesn’t know how to quote.

The dangers of quoting on price alone in China manufacturing go without saying.

2. Quick agreement to tight delivery time

The supplier gave a fairly painless confirmation to meet the production date but no proof of HOW they are going to do it. It’s a tight production time, the supplier usually delivers right on time if not a slight bit late. So what makes you think they are going to nail this one?

In China manufacturing, a simple confirmation is not enough. As your middle school math teacher said “SHOW YOUR WORK

3. “We’ve never done this before”

This is a typical answer in China whether in manufacturing or if you’re in a restaurant ordering dish without heavy garlic. After discussing a quality expectation or a production specification, the supplier keeps mumbling “but, we’ve never done this before”. That’s not a great sign and even if they haven’t done that procedure, that branding, that type before, it’s not showing willingness to attempt and a confidence that any attempt will bring forth good quality.

This red flag can be worked around unless your lead time is tight and if that is the case, then…put down the inquiry and walk away slowly.

4. “It’s difficult”

Most things worth pursuing in life are difficult. So why does my supplier keep saying “it’s difficult” as if he knows I have heart issues and he’s afraid of breaking some bad news to me?

“It’s difficult” is worse than the above “we’ve never done this before”. The cryptic “it’s difficult” usually starts after the sampling is underway or worse, after mass production commences.

You get a batch of samples from UPS and you notice there is something wrong with them; perhaps a process or perhaps the whole thing is off.

You ask your supplier, “Hey, what’s going on? Are we not able to achieve the color we confirmed?”

They reply, “it’s difficult”.

Or you notice there are a few days from the port’s closing date and the factory has not even started packing yet. You ask, “hey are we going to make the vessel?” and they respond back, “it’s difficult”. This is supplier code language for, “I’ve got some overdue bad news for you”.

Remember, the Chinese way of breaking bad news isn’t to directly tell you but it’s to give foggy hints and hope you proactively fill in the blank.

Don’t Let Desire for a Smooth Project Cause you to Miss Obvious Red Flags5. No questions asked and no arguing

A supplier who does not have questions, much of the time, is a supplier who is not thinking about the project. This leads to incorrect quotes and a lot of invested time going down the wrong path.

You wait a few weeks for samples and they are wrong.  You ask the supplier about them and they say, “Oh, we thought you meant this….”.

One of the reasons for price changes before the order starts is that suppliers don’t spend time actually studying the inquiry but the quote based on what they think you are asking.

They hold a lot of presuppositions in their head, such as, “client is asking for cheapest, client is asking for the standard, client is requesting the same as the previous shipment, we’ve always done it this way”.

Also in China if the supplier is arguing with you about possibilities, that is a GOOD sign. It shows they are struggling with some details but actually considering and working on the job.

6. Keeps ignoring a specific request

If you keep asking the supplier to confirm a specific request and they are confirming and commenting on everything but that specific request, that is not a good sign. They see what you are asking, but they either do not understand it or they understand and cannot do it.

A non-confirmation is not a confirmation.

7. Updates are few and far between

This is especially dangerous during the production. If the supplier goes from being communicative to radio silence, that should spark a concern. Usually it can mean there is some bad news they are saving up to give you at the end. It can also mean your shipment is going to be completed before you had the chance to make sure it was properly controlled.

You may still be waiting on a start confirmation and some production process photos and then they contact you out of the blue telling you “Everything is complete…….but some parts were difficult.”


Jacob Yount lived in China from 2001 to 2012, during which time he started JLmade. He is now based out of North Carolina in the US and his home office is still in Suzhou, China; manufacturing and exporting branded merchandise, promotional products and retail gifts for distributors worldwide. Contact Jacob at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or find him on his blog.

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