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Your supplier didn’t sign up for this

by Jacob Yount 

Importers tend to hold their supplier to a standard, which, after 13 years in the business, I’m pretty positive the supplier doesn’t know they agreed to.

Suppliers don’t understand they are placed on such a high pedestal, ie, every action the supplier takes will make or break the   order and not just the order… but the client’s entire business.

If this order delays, then my children will not eat for 3 years because of you!!!!!

Now this isn’t actually said, but the way many buyers function, you’d think their entire livelihood and that of their offspring is based on this one order.

China suppliers view the order as more of a mutual partnership, whereas the Western importer views the supplier as having more of a 1-sided responsibility.

Placing some of the goofy supplier actions aside (believe me, there are a lot of them and I’ve blogged about them extensively), the supplier views the order as if mistakes are shared. You take my junk and I’ll take your junk and it will eventually come out in the wash… this is the attitude.

Although you’re only contacting the supplier by skype and email, the supplier still functions as if the business is local and if there was such a major problem or issue of dire control, then you would “swing” by their office and discuss it over tea.

Also suppliers assume you have enough stroke and solid relationships with your buyers that if there are errors or delays then you should be able to fix things on your end. “Move a few pieces around, smooth a few things over, but problems won’t break the bank. It’s more relational, not absolute”… so says the China supplier.

Buyer:  Why did this delay?
Supplier:  Why did you not order earlier?

Buyer:  Why did you not ask?
Supplier:  Why did you not tell us?

Buyer:  How did you not know this was not the purpose of the product?
Supplier:  Why did you not better educate us on this item? Most Chinese have never even seen a __ (fill in the blank)

Buyer: We’re going to lose a lot of money if this delays.
Supplier: I understand, we’re not even making a lot of money on the job.

Buyers do indeed say the above comments. Suppliers don’t answer in the above way…but they think it.

Dan Harris from the China Law Blog has a solid post on indemnification that lead to the inspiration of this post. This is a whole other kettle of fish the Chinese supplier is not signing up for…

“Foreign judges generally — and Chinese judges in particular — think that American courts are out of control with the damages they impose in product liability cases.”

It’s complicated….  But I firmly believe that in order for a project and continuous imports to be a success, the buyer has to take the bulk of the responsibility in control and in being proactive.

For the expected standard, you can only expect so much out of factories and suppliers from what by and large is still considered low-cost manufacturing.

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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