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Timing considerations in China manufacturing

by Jacob Yount

Is my order going to get to me on time?

Will my buyer have the product in-hand when I told them they would?

Does my supplier in China even understand the importance of this?

Here are some things for you to ponder whenever you are mapping out the timing aspects of your offshore order.

Make sure you and the supplier  on the same page:

Lead time, delivery time, production time… what are you talking about with your supplier? Does your supplier know what you are talking about?

Your supplier may be talking about the amount of time it takes to manufacture and then have the goods sitting on the docks ready to pickup.

You may think they’re talking about the time it takes to get the goods on the vessel. From the time the goods leave the factory to the time the vessel departs could very possibly be 12 days. 12 days can destroy a project in most importing circles, especially in the topsy turvy world of the promotional product industry.

Precisely define your terms:  

The phrase “delivery time”, to me, is more like a general term that covers the whole gambit.

When concreting vital info and discussing with the factory, I like to axe “delivery time” and “lead time” and speak in terms that are more manageable such as…

Mass production days:  From the time of the buyer making the deposit to the goods being ready for factory departure…how long does this take?

Closing date: This is the date that your supplier needs to know to get the goods to the port on time. When does the container or the shipment have to be at the port and clear customs to sail on time? Your sailing date may be Thursday but in order to achieve this, the truck has to arrive by Monday…and before a certain time! Otherwise, they may not hit the next sailing date until that NEXT THURSDAY…that means your order can stew at the port for 9 extra days, give or take a day. Either way, 1 small day can lead to 1 major problem!

Chinese suppliers’ strengths should be left to manufacturing and port arrival. They are not timing coordinators.Sailing date: This is the day the vessel hits the water. Educate yourself on how long it takes the vessel to get to port, unload, clear customs and make tracks towards the destination.

In-hand date: This is when you need the goods to be at certain point (whether your warehouse or in your buyer’s hands). This day is primarily for your consideration, but it’s from this solid date that you work backwards to make sure the job is possible.

Buyers too often cloud their suppliers’ thinking with mental waste on timing matters. Only a portion of the timing should be on your suppliers’ radar. If they have unnecessary timing management responsibilities on the brain, that’s less manufacturing and product-focus responsibilities they are handling.

Have your supplier focus on mass production and nailing that vital closing date. Their job shouldn’t be helping you coordinate and line up all your dates.

This may be a radical thought, but “let your supplier do what it is they do best”.

This may seem like I’m complicating the soup by speaking in these 4 precise terms instead of using the cloudy terms of “delivery time” and “lead time”. But I promise, if you make it a part of your work and China manufacturing habit, it will become 2nd nature.

This is the starting point of going from controlling the timing of your orders like a novice who is worried about every order, to controlling the order like a seasoned importer.

Real order control comes by knowledge and the more you know what’s going on with your timing, the more control you have over the project.

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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