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Lack of understanding magnifies product problems

by Jacob Yount

Understand your product and the manufacturing processes.

Normal variations become perceived problems, when in actuality, no problem exists.

This is what happens when buyers treat China manufacturing on the same level as clicking “proceed to checkout” button on Amazon.

Understand the processes:  If something is done by hand, then function as if you understand this.

Imagine handling a project of hand-painted figurines. The factory is going to assume you understand there are going to be normal variations. This would be a right assumption on the factory’s part.

The factory does not consider that they need to fly to your home country and hold a seminar on what it means for an item to be hand-painted by a team of low-cost factory workers.

What is acceptable?  In a situation like this, work to understand what acceptable variation your factory can achieve.

Before production starts establish with your factory what variations are likely. Then whatever changes you inform them to make, you need to make sure they can actually do the changes.

All too often, importers are expecting one thing and the factory has no idea they are expecting it, because the standard level wasn’t established.

“Do it good” is not a standard level on an item that is going to have variations. Buyers tell their factories “do this right” as if the factory thinks, “gee, I couldn’t have come up with that excellent control point”.

So how does not understanding this lead to perceived problems?

Be careful when viewing photos of the item that the factory may send you. Factories frequently take photos that are too-zoomed-in. In other words, they don’t take photos, that accurately show the item.

Unless your buyer’s standard is holding up the polyresin elf statue and looking up his nostrils, you shouldn’t use a photo that up-close as a standard of viewing the item.

Look at the item in perspective; consider the size of the item, the production processes and the point of the item. Nobody sticks a figurine 5 centimeters away from their eyeballs to check the paint lines. The purpose of the figurine is that it sits on the mantle. View it from that perspective. Surgical tool it ain’t.

What variations are perfectly normal and do you understand this aspect of your production?I’m not talking about accepting junk quality. I’m talking about knowing how your item is made, how to control your item and then how to sell your item.

This may mean as the importer that you educate your buyer that the item is going to be a great item and of course, since it is hand-painted here are what kind of normal variations to expect.

The problem with China’s easy access,  is that very few of the folks who import are knowledgeable of the processes. Therefore they sell their items and order based on false premises. Before they even knew about the processes, they tell their buyers, everything will be absolutely perfect.

Then when normal variations become evident, they immediately think it’s a result of poor production or control.

They start yelling at the factory that they need to fix some found “issue”.

The factory is confused.

Buyers toss around emotionally-charged language that causes the factory to halt production.

Delays start setting in.

Factory goes back to “fix” perceived problem, messes up the packing, dirties the item with hands covered in paint and makes the item worse than it was.

Moral of the story? Keep things in perspective.  Let the factory focus on the main thing, which is, producing a quality item.

And understand what “quality item” means.

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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