By Jacob Yount
Importing promotional products is a hot topic for companies in that 20 billion dollar industry. From the end brand to distributor to importer, businesses in the supply chain require customization and cost savings.
For Western-based companies starting to buy offshore; here’s a picture of some of the initial obstacles you may face.
Importing promotional products isn’t necessarily “turn key”
Offshore promotional product orders commonly are 1-off runs.
That doesn’t mean the buyer doesn’t keep ordering, it means they seldom order the same thing twice.
Because the end brand seldom orders the same customized product, there’s a bit of the ol’ constant reinventing of the wheel.
It’s not a ready made supply chain where you simply have to contact a vendor and fill in the blanks.
A product line and supply chain is stable after initial order runs and frequent reorders.
After repeat orders processes become more efficient. Supplier communication finds a rhythm once you gain traction with the same vendor. In importing promotional merchandise, you frequently WON’T have these luxuries.
Obstacles in importing promotional merchandise
When quoting promotional products offshore, you may have 6 projects going on at one time all for 6 different items.
- You have to contact a wide range of vendors.
- You have to introduce yourself over and over again to various vendors, establishing who you are.
- You have to send artwork, describe artwork, make sure they can open artwork, make sure they can use your artwork, rinse repeat. Don’t assume that the artwork aspect is a no-brainer.
- As you’re waiting for quotes and updates, there’s wrangling with vendors to give you priority.
- You have to train this vendorto understand your quality expectations and requirements. This vendor may have done widgets before, but they haven’t done widgets for YOUR BRAND and your brand’s requirements.
Importing promotional products can actually be harder than stable lines
Frequently with China, the supplier’s not able to pivot and make the necessary changes to what they’re already doing.
You may be contacting a vendor that specializes in classic alarm clocks.
You think this should a no brainer, they make clocks, they can make this idea we have for my brand.
But the obstacle is, they’ve never made a clock for YOUR customer.
This vendor may have done widgets before, but they haven’t done widgets for YOUR BRAND and your brand’s requirements.
So you’re starting at square #1.
The factory doesn’t approach the job, as if they’re eager to use their vast knowledge and make a few tweaks here and there.
No, they’re approaching this as if they’re starting from square #1.
They don’t know you.
They don’t know if you’re going to order.
They have 7 active clients that frequently do repeat orders and now along comes a would-be importer with new specs, new demands and has yet to wire 1 single dollar. I don’t mean to be negative but am endeavoring to paint a realistic picture.
They prefer to start from the beginning and relearn for each individual case. This has its positive points when it comes to being safe, but the negative side is that it’s tedious.
There’s sort of an odd conundrum to it. Chinese vendors send out spam emails and in their own way, aggressively attempt to court new customers.
But when the customer bites and sends an inquiry, the vendor tends to freeze up. They’re reserved and wait to see how things play out instead of eagerly tackling an inquiry to assure a successful sale.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or find him on his blog.