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Back to the basics: Sampling process

by Jacob Yount in 'JLmade Blog'

A smooth sampling process is critical to successful offshore manufacturing.  More times than not, in the promotional product industry, super-fast delivery times are usually lurking around the corner, so time is not on your side.

This post is a continuation from Sampling Strife that spotlighted vendors’ mindset on sampling and the cooperation (or lack thereof) the importer tends to receive when the nasty “s word” is brought up.

(This post is mainly referring to pre-production samples.)

Before you, as the importer (many times a distributor in the promo biz) approach a factory on sampling, make sure you’ve done your own due diligence.

Define expectations but make sure they are possible expectations:

Do you have sampling expectations that are only possible for production?  For example many buyers expect fully customized, locked-and-loaded-samples, with all the options.  But is it feasible or practical for the factory to dye a large chunk of material for a few pieces of samples?

In the fast-paced promo biz, know what’s possible and important for the sample.  If your brand (end-user) requests a perfected sample before ordering, then you need to start the process way in advance and be prepared to pay.  But even time and money sometimes don’t assure the feasibility of some processes that are only possible for bulk quantity.  These include but are not limited to dyeing material, molding, processes that may include a lot of waste and I could probably name some more if I put my mind to it.

Learn cans and cannots:  instead of just telling your customer you’ll “serve them the moon” inform them what to expect in sampling.  Reassure them, once production starts you’ll keep them liberally supplied with images and actual first-run pieces that fit delivery expectations.  These pieces need to come over before the point-of-no-return.

Be prepared for some back-and-forth:

This is especially true if it’s a customized item.  Even though the vendor may do bags have they ever done this bag?  Why do you expect them to get absolutely correct the first time?  Especially if you didn’t give them the key-points and info they needed on what to watch and assure, then some back-and-forth is inevitable.  Remember, their mind reading powers are not that strong :) and then the vendor is working cross culturally and cross languages.  Avoid guesswork and slang and corporate speak language in your specs.

Provide the vendor what they need:

Got a sample to copy or to use as a reference?  Then send it to the vendor.  I’ve seen cases where a factory will make a sample, the buyer will then say it’s not right, let me send you the sample to match.  Don’t wait until there is a first-run and then send the sample – give everyone a break and send that from the beginning.

Remember:  if you send a sample for quality reference only, but the branding is to be different from that piece and same as the artwork file you sent, you really have to stress that point.  If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it 1000 times.  To a factory, a physical piece will ALWAYS trump an instruction, an image or a direction.  If you send a sample and tell them to duplicate but instruct them to use the digital artwork file provided, the likelihood is very high they will duplicate and copy the artwork that is on the physical sample!  I repeat, to a factory a physical piece trumps anything digital (similar to the law of “Lasting First Impressions”).  Proceed with caution.

Be serious, accessible and professional during sampling processes:

Be available for the factory to reach you via email, skype, whatever…and be quick with your response.  If you don’t show interest in the process, guess who else won’t?  Treat the sampling process just like an order.  Ask for photos, updates and clear communication from your vendor during the process.

Spotlight important points to the vendor instead of throwing out empty phrases like “we have to get this right” or “if this isn’t right, we can’t order”.  Neither phrase adds anything meaningful to the process.

It’s true, without the proper sample and understanding behind the process, you could blow the order;  but make sure you’ve done everything from your side to make it a success and motivate the vendor to consider you a solid partner.

After moving to China in 2001 and starting JLmade in 2004, Jacob Yount has a few things he'd like to share. He blogs on China-business life, manufacturing and management. Jacob's production focus is branded merchandise, promotional products and retail gifts. Contact Jacob at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or find him on twitter.

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