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China Sourcing Requires a Different Way of Thinking

by Jacob Yount

You have to change your thought process when dealing with China and in turn Chinese vendors.

You’re not buying from local suppliers who are accustomed to your buying habits or are in agreement with “how things should go in the normal supply and buy world.”

Language barriers are just the surface.

The meat of the differences are differences in ways of thinking and ways of doing things.

Perhaps you could say it’s changing the mindset from…

“How things should go in the normal supply and buy world”


“How things DO go in the suppliers’ world…ie China”

In buying from China one is at the mercy to a 5,000 year old mindset and a country that, although is rapidly developing, most of it’s developments are on the externals (think building, railroads, investment) and not the internals (efficiency, consideration, safety).

China sourcing is unpolished.

Don’t think in terms of existing references, neatly organized catalogs of work, picture perfect reference photos. Think in terms of original material, bulk swatches, processes and capabilities.

The buyer from China who sources with a level of professionalism and the ability to maneuver around these differences can visualize the end product before it’s accomplished.

This skillful Indiana Jones of a buyer can determine from various factors if the supplier in question is able to provide what’s needed. The project’s success isn’t based on if the factory has nice white-background photos or if the factory has a pristine website. Success comes from the buyer knowing how to use a factory’s strengths.

Remember, you’re working with a factory and their job número uno is to manufacture…period. They are not a marketing department. Their forte is not equipping you with the right data on the front side to make the presentation.

Precision, motivation and “getting things right the first time” are elusive concepts.

Vendors in China tackle projects in their own way. First and foremost anyone dealing with China needs to know that precision and exactness are an afterthought..if even a thought at all.

Vendors do not provide quotes after carefully examining data and being as exact as possible the first time.

A Common Vehicle in Transporting Material from the Raw Material Vendor to Production FacilityThey thought they could hit your delivery time, but they didn’t calculate this other large order on the production line and this and this….oh well, we have your deposit (not the exact words they may say, but it can be the perceived mindset).

For example, the process may go smooth in the beginning but once the mass production starts, your salesperson stopped controlling the production line. She thought “they got it under control” and she didn’t want to seem pushy to the production line manager who’s been working there for 10 years…I mean after all, she has only been there for 2 years (this kind of scenario where cultural concepts influence YOUR quality is common).

From the China supplier mindset, exactness is not necessarily a goal to be obtained and if it can be reached, it is something that is gradually stumbled upon over time. Exactness and precision are not results of all parties involved using their skills to reach the best conclusion possible. It’s more of a “fate thing” and also related to if boss is a good boss or a bad boss. So many things from the “worker mindset” inhale and exhale based on what “boss” is doing for the day. Although boss may seldom be at the factory.

The mindset in China is “first, let’s get the client in, we’ll worry about the details later”.

Unfortunately without the proper control, that “later” may never come.

The skillful importer compiles data, visuals, artwork, design specs, production requirements….and gets all the detail over to the factory. The skillful importer doesn’t simply email a bunch of garbled info but assures the factory understands and is able to implement. For the experienced and successful importer, control and oversight (even if from abroad) are something that is continuous and each new phase of production requires the proper steps of control.


As always my articles are geared to the promotional product and branded merchandise industries, but these truths ring true for many fields.

Speaking of my world, the promotional product industry, if you are a promotional products distributor and would like JLmade’s new e-catalog, please email us here and request.

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.


0#sb1m2014-07-31 20:14
I blog often and I really thank you for your content.
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I'm going to book mark your site and keep checking for new information about once a week.
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