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36 Tips on How to Deal or Negotiate with your Chinese Suppliers

by Clara Muriel Ruano in ‘Foreign Entrepreneurs in China blog’

During the last year, I have interviewed several entrepreneurs who source products from Chinese factories. Their tips and insights are scattered across a number of posts (and a few of them I’ve not even published). Today I am going to compile most of the tips I’ve heard so far on how to deal / negotiate with Chinese suppliers ( I say most because I am probably forgetting a few). Here is the check-list:

LOOKING FOR SUPPLIERS…
Tip #1. Initial Search for Suppliers: directories, trade-show directories and internet
Tip #2. Not all good suppliers have English websites, get on board somebody who can help you search in Chinese
Tip #3. Existing (good) suppliers may be able to help expand your supplier network in non-competing products
Tip #4. If there is any IP involved, register it in China before you approach anybody
Tip #5. Consider registering your IP for categories similar to the one you manufacture

SHORTLISTING SUPPLIERS
Tip #6. Approach them first with an introductory email presenting yourself, your company and detailing as much as possible the product you are after
Tip #7. If they do not answer fast (1-3 days) move on, they will give you trouble in the future
Tip #8. If you have a good number of suppliers to choose from, create a “pre-selection system” that helps you shortlist: level of response to your introductory e-mail response, telephone check (do they exist?), factory address provided, factory license, any certification your business requires, quality certifications…
Tip #9. Ensure you are not dealing with the middle man (I): Visit the factory… ALWAYS!
Tip #10. If you can’t visit the factory, get an Inspection Company to do it for you. It is not that expensive

NEGOTIATING WITH YOUR SELECTED SUPPLIERS
Tip #11. If you are not a fluent Chinese speaker, bring a native Chinese speaker to the negotiation- he/she will be a valuable support
Tip #12. Understand perfectly the production process
Tip #13. Be very clear on who is going to be making decisions
Tip #14. The best way to do business in China is face-to-face” Technology is great, but I do not think it is the way Chinese people are wired to work
Tip #15. “I can’t” is not in their vocabulary, so be wary if you get silence for an answer…
Tip #16. Make them recap the agreements, do not assume they understood just because you feel you were clear enough”
Tip #17. Give realistic purchase estimates. If you promise 10 more times than you are planning to buy, they will cut corners to meet their profit so it will hit you back with poor quality (they work on small margins)
Tip #18. Expect long negotiations: even points that have already been agreed will be raised again in the future
Tip #19. Pricing: Do not get obsessed with the cheapest deal. Quality has a price and you should also consider that.
Tip #20. Track commodity prices used in your products
Tip #21. Learn about your suppliers cost structure (how much goes into labor, materials cost…),
Tip #22 . If your IP is involved, make sure they agree to sign a good non disclosure agreement, with non use / non circumvention provisions (I read this one at the China Law Blog- worth reading the whole post about it)
Tip #23. Make sure you have good contracts in place. It will be a good use of your money to get a China knowledgeable lawyer to draft them (so that the terms are enforceable and it covers all the points you need to cover- IP, stocks, product quality, product specifications, penalties, etc)
Tip #24. Ensure they have the machinery & capability to produce your product. Ask them to produce a few samples in front of you, even if they don’t match your exact specifications.

PRODUCTION & SHIPMENT
Tip #25. Make sure you visit the factory during product development. It will speed the process, as nobody will tell you on the phone when they’ve got stuck with something (especially if the product is technically sophisticated)
Tip #26. Visit the factory during production & for quality control
Tip #27. If you can’t visit factory send an inspection company or somebody you trust (and is qualified for the job)
Tip #28. Don’t pay till you are sure all the product is in good condition (make sure the contract is draft that way)
Tip # 29. Never relax! Even with good suppliers. “Quality Control: Always, even with good established suppliers”
Tip #30. Always be ready with back up options- you would be surprised about how many last minutes surprises happen
Tip #31. Expect Delays in your Supply Schedule (power shortages are common, national holidays…)
Tip #32. “Problems don’t finish after production. Supervise Logistic Paperwork! There are often mistakes that will get your shipment stuck

…ON-GOING RELATIONSHIP
Tip #33. Payment Terms… Some buyers feel that, once you build the business relationship, things get easier (ex. Not requiring advanced payments)
Tip #34. Get rid of unreliable suppliers A.S.A.P. If they trick you once, it will happen again
Tip #35. Take care of good suppliers, they are not easy to find. Look for win-win when problems come up.
Tip #36. “Renegotiating conditions” is quite common. Your Chinese supplier sees the contract as the “beginning” of the relationship. If you follow tips 20 & 21 (track commodity prices & know suppliers cost structure) you will be able to assess if there is a fair reason to give in (hopefully in future productions)

Would you like to add your tips?


Clara Muriel Ruano has lived and worked in a number of Asia Pacific economies since 2002, before basing herself in China in 2008. Her Foreign Entrepreneurs in China blog is designed for entrepreneurs and small and medium sized companies with an interest in practical, realistic hints, tips and lessons learned from success and failure in the China market.

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