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23 reasons why it pays to visit the factory

by Adam Gilbourne

Here are 23 reasons why it pays to visit the factory:

1) You can find out how big the factory is – or if they are actually a factory at all – do not believe the rubbish they put on their Alibaba pages – it’s quite often false.

2) You can assess the general standard of people,  sales staff, managers and workers.

3) You can find out if the product you want to buy is really their “core business” or if it is a new product for them (or if they produce this product at all).

4) You can see if they really have any real process in place – such as checking their incoming supplies/raw materials. You would be amazed how many production disasters occur because suppliers do not even check/QC their own supplier’s materials.

5) Are your orders too big or too small for this supplier? If your orders are too small they will not give you the attention you may want. If too big, time frames and quality may suffer.

6) You can see how they package goods and if they store packaged goods outside. That is, do they have a roof/depot area? If it is raining will your packaged goods get wet?

7) You can see actual production run quality, not just samples. Does this match the standard you require?

8) You can see the standard packaging the supplier uses. Do they package the items well? Do you need better packaging? More problems occur from poor packaging than any other area when it comes to importing from China.

9) You can see from carton marks which companies they really supply. Are they really making for the customers they claim to? (Also you can often get interesting information about who they supply in your industry. Information they would not tell you over email or phone).

10) You can actually build a relationship with them – we once had a customer who went skinny dipping with the factory boss. A weird experience yes, but the factory boss was never going to forget who this customer was! This means your requests are sorted out faster in the future. You can get to the front of the queue.

11) If they get it wrong, you now know where they work.

12) Face to face and armed with the right questions, they’re more likely to tell you the truth than lie to your face. Lying about how real their certificates are is much easier on email than looking someone in the eye and lying!

13) Just like a restaurant, you do not go to one where they are not making food for anyone. If all the tables are empty, you smell a rat, same with factories. If no one is on the production line, workers have gone home or “Tuesday is our day off” – run a mile. (There can be exceptions to this rule, as some manufacturers have legitimately seasonal business).

14) Do workers have a uniform, do they have a basket ball court, good live in quarters etc? Or are the workers local/casual labour/farmers?

15) Like fishing, to land the best price you need to give them enough bait. Going to the factory shows them you are serious, a high value prospect and a good potential sale. You can always get a better price face to face.

16) Are these people easy to do business with or difficult from the start? For example some bosses are simple, straight, willing and just want to get the business and do the job. Others just play games, it is just hard work and that is before you have even given them money. If that is the case, it will be even harder AFTER you have given them money!

17) You can find out, how long they have been in this business/industry. Have they had a factory 2 years or 15 years? 15 years experience makes a massive difference. Or have they been in the business 15 years, but only started their own factory 2 years ago?

18) Are they a leader in the industry or followers? Some factories are developing their OWN machines, to improve efficiency. Others are using machines from the 1920′s.

19) Do they have in house labs? Are they using these labs to test raw materials that come in? Or do they have no way to check the raw materials they buy?

20) Do they have stock? (i.e. are they financially strong?). Or is the factory empty of stock/raw material supply and need your deposit to go down the road, stick some material on the back of a cart so they can start making something?

21) Have they invested in the business? Does the factory have a floor, or is it dusty? Do they have heating in the offices? Or are staff out in the chicken shed? Perhaps for some products and required pricing this does not matter! It depends on your situation.

22) Do they have big banners inside the factory workshop with sayings like "quality is number 1"?

23) Is there a staff canteen? Is it a good company by Chinese standards to work for? Or is this a total peasant factory run by the local slick sales guy/cowboy/rouge trader from the village 5 rice fields away?

Key points: it is not only visiting factories which matters. It is having a trained eye and experience to ask the right questions which counts. As this ensures you will build a better picture of the supplier’s competence.

Also, different suppliers are suitable to different customers. Perhaps you can accept lower quality, because you require cheaper pricing. Maybe you do not need a factory with any bells and whistles, quality processes or nice staff canteens – as price is the number 1 factor in your market.

Adam Gilbourne is the founder of Easy Imex Ltd and helps importers to source product & manage their supply chain in China. He writes advice for importers on the Easy Imex blog. He lives full time in Shanghai, China. You can contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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