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6 expert tips on how to source from China

By John O' Grady

Sourcing from China is not a new thing but in this post we want to focus on providing China sourcing beginners and anyone who has had or is having issues some valuable tips on what is a very challenging but often very rewarding journey.

So by definition a source is “a place, person, or thing from which something comes or can be obtained”. It makes sense to start there. Spending time and energy on getting the best sources is a worthwhile venture. In relation to having products manufactured and importing them from China it’s an incredibly important part. A good beginning really is half the work where choosing wisely is very important in lowering your risk. Let’s take the 6 key areas covering the following.

1. Finding Suppliers.

2. Getting the Information you need.

3. Weighing up the information.

4. Visiting Factories.

5. Sourcing at Exhibitions.

6. Making & Keeping Business Relationships.

So finding suppliers, how would I go about that? Start by signing up as a free member to and other B2B sites. Familiarize yourself with these platforms which are user friendly but do contain a few more bells and whistles than before. The number 1 important thing to learn about sourcing online is gaining a 6th sense for genuine good companies. The more information you review the more you will get this. For example the more company profiles you read, the more websites you visit, the more images you review, the more chairman’s letters you read, the clearer the picture you get.

Focus on what you can see that’s real. Don’t assume because a company has 500 pictures of products there that they must be great at making that product. There is much more to finding suppliers than that – focus on what you can see that’s real evidence.

When you master finding legitimate suppliers then you need to worry about getting the information you need. Don’t over focus on prices unless you have a very detailed specification for a supplier to quote from – comparing Apples and Apples is one thing but there are many varieties of apple too. When requesting information, make numbered lists and only ask for 1 thing per line. Do not write request for information as long winded unpunctuated stories. It genuinely comes across un-professional and you will be put to the bottom of the pile.

Utilize the phone (by that I mean Skype or another such technology) to give the supplier a call and get a sales contact. A quick polite professional call where you can agree to email details you would like quoted on is a great way to start. I recommend you do that before you start swapping emails with anyone.

After gathering a lot of details from ideally 5 solid supply options you’ll need to start weighing up the information. Here take time to compare everything received, be organized and file the info separately. It is pretty easy to start getting confused between Chinese company names and contacts if you haven’t much experience with them. What’s important to you? Company size, how long they are established, are they servicing markets with comparable quality, are they within reasonable distance of a major port, do they communicate clearly or are there some questions that are just still unclear? Ask yourself plenty of questions. For most products you will be able to request a sample (assuming non-customized) and that will be either free or with a small charge. To save time do this as soon as you shortlist the company, it will save you time. Armed with lots of information and product samples you will be well placed to rank your suppliers.

You won’t always want or need to make the journey to China but sometime you should. Having ranked your suppliers if you want to place an order first you should get a 3 party foreign sourcing company in China to make factory visits in China. This is a very popular way for remote buyers to make final decisions on which supplier to begin with. By engaging experienced and specialized companies you will learn more. Costs for this are comparatively reasonable but if you are on a tight budget these companies can also oer some good desk based advice.

If you are making the leap yourself then there is plenty you can do to be prepared. Be thorough and go through and bring copies of quotes, specs. Or any important points discussed and conrmed. Get the map out understand exactly where you are going…not just I’m going to Shanghai and then a 2 hour train from there. Bring your business cards and oer them with 2 hands, receive in the same way and study it carefully, dont stu it in your back pocket. Learn a lot more about this in the course for beginners below.

In the early stages of sourcing if you are more of a get up and go type you might be intrigued by the proposition of Sourcing at exhibitions in China. If you are in an idea generation phase then this can be a lot more ben beneficial than trawling the B2B sites. In this case I would recommend checking through the web for information on some of the 2,500 tradeshows currently held annually in China. Here is a good resource for searching all of these I also wrote a complete blog post with more resources like that with a solid list of tips such as…

1. China is not Milan. Wear comfortable shoes and clothes.

2. Save the planet. Don’t collect catalogs from everyone.

3. Take notes. A simple notepad can be eective in recording details.

4. Be Digital. Photos and videos are a good friend too.

5. Be Patient. You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

If you have been through half of what’s outlined above then you will be well away on your China business venture. This means you need to know how to make business relationships in China and keep them. It is a subtle skill to attain but if you master it will always serve you well. Business relationships in China work dierently than in Western business. In China you need to accept each other on a personal level and to consider the other party as a friend.  That all seems outlandish right? Well, it is until you experience it and it does require you to use your powers of judgement. This is also true for your Chinese counterpart. In very simple terms you need to be willing to give a little of yourself, to talk openly and share information which shows some trust to your new contact.

An easy way to start the ball rolling is share information on market for X/Y products in your own country and a neighbouring country. Perhaps something is changing that’s noteworthy or perhaps you know someone else worth introducing.

Do these things in a sincere way and it’s a great sign that you care, are professional and are a respected source of knowledgeable information. Most Chinese business people are particular skillful in the art of the business relationship and if they are genuine in their own eorts they will make you feel at ease, when you make a good connection it is worth keeping. It’s not just about business though you can talk about comfortable personal things like your education background, a previous job or business venture. This is a good start but quite simplistic so to keep learning do check out the FREE Sourcing from China: A course for beginners.

John O' Grady has been living and working in Shanghai, China since 2004. In all of that time John has worked in sourcing and supply chain management. Currently he is General Manager of Found China, a provider of China Sourcing Services. John enjoys travelling to factories throughout China to find new suppliers, make deals, oversee QC and stay in touch with good friends. Keep up to date with John and Found on their No. 1 China Procurement blog.

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