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Responsibility in China manufacturing

by Jacob Yount

Responsibility in China manufacturing is a tricky thing.

Imagine that an order goes south. There are efficiency issues, timing delays and even worse, the dreaded quality problems.

You, as an importer are heated at the factory and fully see this as their responsibility. You think they should do something to make this right.

How will your factory view the situation?

Granted, I’m speaking in a very general sense here. With every order, every case, every product there are going to be differences.

But, after close to 14 years of working with China, I can tell you how the factory most likely IS NOT going to view the situation.

The factory will not view an order from the perspective of “we dropped the ball”.

The factory will agree that there are problems.

The factory will concede that miscommunications happened.

They will light up cigarettes and puff away despondently while nodding that things could have gone better.

But what they will not do is say “we dropped the ball”.

The factory will likely conclude this symphony of errors from the perspective of:

“The Ball Was Dropped”.

Notice, not “we dropped the ball”.  But “the ball was dropped”.

This ball, that bounces back and forth between both factory and importer, fell to the ground. This ball that started from a baby ball and grew when both the importer and the factory added to it.

An email here, a confirmation there, a delay in signing off on the samples, a decision to skip a process, a decision to forego the quality inspection because we trusted everything….

All these nourishing yet detrimental touches helped grow this proverbial ball into the monster it became.

And eventually it dropped.

Remember when everything was going well in the early stages, you as the importer told the factory:

“we are partners.”

“we really want to work with you.”

“we want to bring you more business.”

Now everything is their fault. “The factory should have known to do this. They had enough margin in the order to increase this quality. They should have waited on my confirmation for this. Did they not do basic QC steps?” These thoughts all runs through the importers’ minds.

The factory feels your pain. They think about how casual you were in all your signoffs. They keep in mind how you harped on the timing to the point that everyone in the office figured you did not care so much about the quality. They remember how hard you negotiated prices. They looked around for your list of quality requirements…but could never find it. And then they remembered, no such document ever existed.

This is a hypothetical situation but based on real excerpts I’ve seen in my years of handling overseas orders and buying from Chinese factories.

The moral of the story is to treat your China manufacturing endeavors more like a court case.

Avoid the jumbled mess at the end of the order. Proper control steps at the beginning help to avoid convincing, finger pointing and chaos at the end.

Avoid the jumbled mess at the end of the order. Proper control steps at the beginning help to avoid convincing, finger pointing and chaos at the end.

Evidence, documents, mockups, proofs, timely signoffs…this should all be the rule of the day.

The supplier is manufacturing YOUR ORDER. They do not see it as you are buying THEIR GOODS.

They are not experts on your market, your requirements and they cannot read your mind.

If at anytime you find yourself being casual about the orders and projects you have going on – go back and check over everything.

The best route is to control your communication, the processes and the actual manufacturing instead of figuring out how to make sure the factory picks up that poor dropped ball and calls it their own. 

Even with the best of control methods, problems can and still will happen. Responsibility in China manufacturing is primarily an on-going, over-arching thought pattern and motivation behind your decisions. Not something everyone scrambles to assign at the end of the order.

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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