by Jacob Yount
When it comes to your China factory contact, allow them to do the job they are most able to do…
Visualize and treat your factory contact (the salesperson you frequently deal with) as an extension of your own team.
No doubt, part of China sourcing is seeing yourself as the virtual product manager or developer inside their organization; not looking over a faraway fence and shouting commands.
But, like anyone on your team, you want to incorporate their strengths and not place unwarranted expectations on them.
Controlling the Production Line
When it comes to your China factory contact, mass production control should hold top importance.
All other responsibilities and requests take a backseat to making sure the pending order or order on the production line, comes out as per the confirmed specs. We can even add sample production into this category, but obviously, sample production will be secondary to an open order.
All secondary requests (quotes, questions, photos) take a back seat to quality.
Anyone who reads my posts know that I hold a great deal of stock to secondary requests. But if you have to choose solid quality on an ACTUAL ORDER versus a timely quote for another project or photos, I’m sure you’ll agree in that quality is lord over all.
The majority of my manufacturing is with the promotional product industry and I know that timing can be critical.
Therefore I say this with all caution and understanding; even timing is a few steps behind quality on the ladder rungs of importance. Many times, the timing kerfuffles are related to the importers poor planning and the vendor cannot be expected to focus on timing at the expense of quality.
Pushing and pushing on timing can lead to poorly manufactured goods. This is an unintended result of off-balance supplier control.
Represent your Interests in the Factory
Similar to order control, the sales contact should be looking out for your best interest. This would mean making sure they are being the squeaky wheel in front of the production line manager, in front of the bosses, in front of 3rd party vendors….whoever.
They are being a squeaky wheel, making sure your order is heard, making sure your order is getting the proper attention.
Although this is close to order control, from the China perspective, this would be going above and beyond the call-of-duty for your factory sales contact.
THIS IS WHY, I harp so much on creating an actual professional relationship, as much as possible, with your sales contact. As much as you can on digital communication, skype chats and the occasional factory visit, you want to motivate your supplier contact.
A motivated supplier not only puts out fires but will look for production landmines before they go off!
Watching sampling, monitoring timing, physically going to the production line for the purpose of improvement…all this would be included in representing your interests.
Imagine a world where a China factory contacts sends you discernible production line photos of your order…without you having to ask!
As you start working with factories and getting to know your sales contacts; send them a list of expectations and let them know how you work and if it’s something they can mesh with. Send this information BEFORE the order. This is stuff that is supposed to be discussed in practice, not waiting until game time. If you get my drift?
Your contact should quote you for reorders, new inquiries and product development. This is another reason that it is in your best interest to establish a professional rapport with your China factory contact.
You want your quotes to be timely, thorough and competitive.
Sending in an RFQ is not the time for your supplier to be an information gopher. Do your own research and build a framework before sending in that RFQ. Too many customers treat the RFQ time as Production Education 101.
…but, the better relationship you have with that sales contact and the more professional rapport you’ve established, the more willing they will be to accurately field your questions.
What your China factory contact is not
Sometimes when talking about what something IS, the best way to do that, is by describing what something IS NOT.
Your factory contact, typically is not a pillar of organization. The more time you are using your vendor to ask them what was discussed 10 emails ago and what the price was for the 39th version you quoted…the more time they are not spending on the main thing.
Like it or not, as you start out the relationship and it may actually be the entire time of the relationship, but you may end up being the one keeping your sales contact organized. If you’ve ever been in a China factory or trade company office and ask to see their files, they will open up Outlook mail.
Their Outlook is their to-do list, nothing is organized and the supplier clicks through 100’s of emails looking for yours.
Stinks but that is the way it (not always) is.
Your factory sales contact should not be considered a fount of information that revolves around all things importing.
Form questions in a framework and context. If your question can be Googled and it’s something that YOU need to know for your business, do a bit of legwork.
Also, asking open-ended questions and getting a wrong answer can hurt your business.
Example: asking the supplier about safety wording on packaging for your country / market. They may be able to give an answer, but there are more sure ways of finding out.
Your China factory contact in the factory is not a logistics manager.
This is a biggie.
The supplier gets bound up in bookings, requests for finding out the duty fees and any hidden fees you will need to pay…and then they have to load the container a certain way or your threatening to fine them.
All these logistical aspects are indeed crucial to your business. But the majority of logistical work should be in your hands and your freight forwarder’s hands.
Too often, factory contacts are working to keep their head above water and then the buyer emails the supplier a 12 page wordy document, in corporate-speak, from “the brand” describing all shipping requirements.
And then later one, the buyer wonders, “how in the world could the packing and container loading confusion have happened?”
To wrap up this post; like in any management scenario, as you work more and more with the same supplier, you will learn the strengths of your factory contact.
For example, if your contact’s strength is communication but not proactive ideas, then realize you will need to guide and direct more in the realm of critical thinking. If they are good at production control but not keeping you updated; realize you will need to repetitiously express your expectations in the realm of updates.
…all more reasons to avoid frequently shopping out and changing your vendors. Focus on growing longterm buying patterns with select vendors.