By David Dayton in 'Silk Road International'
"You know you don't want the answers, so why do you keep asking the questions?" That was the question that I was asked last week. These are some of the questions that I was asking:
The list could go on and on and on and on. But the answer always turns out to be the same: "I wanted to catch the opportunity." And that's what business is all about in scarcity-driven China: Did you catch the opportunity when it flew past or did you let it go and miss your (one and only?) shot?
The good news is that this is slowly changing—and not just with a couple of big suppliers, but across the board.
Last month while speaking for the Global Sources supplier meeting I heard some very promising new comments from the suppliers themselves. Basically the suggestions centered around the following: The "lowest price" is no longer in China—suppliers here MUST differentiate themselves some other way or go out of business. Chinese suppliers have 10-20 years head start on India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, some places in South American and Africa—what are they doing with that experience? Some factories that were led out as success stories share these ideas with the audiance:
There were over 700 suppliers present. This is either a good sign that there is a desire for education that was not present before; GS averaged about 300 at previous show. Or this means that the economy is still so bad that suppliers are grasping at straws. I'd like to think that it's more of the former, but it's probably some of both.
For my part, I tried to stress that the opportunities to keep clients rested in the ability to improve the buying experience, not just lower the price. There were indeed a lot of suppliers that were taking careful notes and asking questions (of me and the other successful Chinese suppliers on the panel). Most of the suppliers wanted to know specifics about how to improve or how to deal with specific situations. There was a lot of discussion around the idea that China has to build on the successes of the past and evolve into a more info and services-oriented model of doing business.
But there were still a number of suppliers that just out-right didn't believe that being honest would help them retain clients. More than a few even came up to me afterwards and in completely unbelieving and almost mocking tones asked if I was serious when I said that being honest about problems would help them retain customers. They argued that if they let clients know that there were problems they would lose trust, get mad and leave for another supplier. My contention is this: after 10+ years of working in Asia I've learned a couple of things.
I'm not going to leave just because the price goes up. In fact, I almost never do if I can get the quality and other aspects of my order correct. But no matter how many factories have realized that this is indeed the expected way to conduct international business (with foreigners or even other Chinese) there are the hold outs that are not really interested in meeting expectations. And with them you really only have one option—don't start doing business with them in the first place.