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Suppliers ignoring the seemingly obvious

by Jacob Yount

Did the supplier not consider that when they gave you that update it was going to lead you to ask more questions?

Did the supplier not think that whenever they emailed that blurry, crooked photo of your order that it was actually going to create a larger feeling of uneasiness and add to your concerns?

Manufacturing in and importing from China undoubtedly leads to supplier frustration.

The biggest hurdle is not necessarily the language barriers but differences in thinking and mindset.

One of the cans of gasoline that fuels the fire is that China suppliers don’t seem to have a concept on what should be a red flag to them or what is most definitely a red flag to you. It’s as if they are indifferent to facts. They seem numb to what’s already been established and confirmed.

To the supplier, it isn’t entire project management but a series of disconnected steps, confirmations and results that by chance form a result.

A few examples of China suppliers not catching what would seem like the obvious:

-For weeks the supplier confirms the date of completion. Their most recent email has a new, later date. There is no acknowledgment or explanation of the difference.

-Ditto for pricing. For weeks you work with the supplier and hash out a price. It’s time to move to next phases, they pass you the official quote and the price is different. The supplier doesn’t spend one keystroke to address the price difference. There may be some logical reason but for some reason, the supplier doesn’t find it necessary to illuminate.

-The supplier emails you about some problem and leaves it at that. They don’t include in their update any indication of solution to said problem, no comment on “next-steps”, no comment if they are going to close the shop and go fishing. Just an obscure email and that’s it…

-You received your samples and there are multiple quality concerns the supplier should’ve caught. Was this only for reference of one aspect? Was this purposefully an incomplete sample that was sent for a specific reason…tumbleweed silence from the supplier.

Why? Why doesn’t the supplier grab the proverbial bull by the horns (or dragon by the tail?) and proactively address these points? Did they miss them? Did they not care? Is it like “where’s Waldo” where they just want to see if the buyer is paying attention?

Confrontation:  I believe the subconscious reason, like for so many driving factors in China, is “face“. Goal número 1 so many times, is not to do the best job possible, it’s not to have a successful campaign, but it’s to avoid making mistakes in front of others and avoid confrontation.

Not to play too much “Dr. Phil” here but this underlying reason, makes the mind dull to catching quality and management points of the order. This is an example of cultural issues affecting quality issues.

Not wanting to “stir the pot” creates a dullness in being proactive and having a sharp mind for discrepancy and quality control.

They are busy and productive but making sure you are up-to-speed on all the in's and out's of your order is not top priority
They are busy and productive but making sure you are up-to-speed on all the in’s and out’s of your order is not top priority

When you start being careful and attentive to detail then you’ve got to start facing facts.

Facts represent possible errors and they do not want to face errors; errors they either caused in poor management or errors they have to go to their production line and handle and that leads to “rocking the internal boat” and that’s also hard for your sales contact to do.

Wrong starting point: Supplier’s start from the mindset that everything is going to be fine. They don’t consider:

“This is China, we’re notorious for shoddy production, our workers are low paid, we’re developing and many problems are on the threshold waiting to happen. We have to be super-careful in our control”

The mindset is more of:

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, no problem. Please make the balance payment as soon as possible”

Harmony:  Success doesn’t come from individual effort but, in many folks’ mind in China, success comes from chance or favor from others.

Being on top of all their duties and all of their points isn’t, in their minds, a necessary formula to success.

So if you catch the discrepancy or they catch the discrepancy, then great. Let’s not get all bent out of shape over a few extra days of production, right?

Purposeful “fuzziness”: China suppliers seem to be extremely gifted at not covering direct questions asked and addressing issues because they like to leave room open.

What is the benefit?

It allows for wiggle room in not being nailed down to something they’ve agreed upon.

It also allows them to remain in that nice cozy dark room themselves.

They hope everyone will join them in this dark room. This dark room is worry free and no spotlights allowed.

Relax and kinda’ hope everything will work out.

A problem not being recognized equals “no problem”.

Let’s go eat…

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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