By Renaud Anjoran
Many importers lament that Chinese suppliers don’t take any responsibility when quality issues are found after shipment. Ten years ago, I would have confirmed that it happens less than 0.1% of the time. These days, it seems to become more common.
I talked about this with a client last week, and here is what came out of our discussion. I listed 5 ways to increase your chances, as a buyer.
1. Work with a manufacturer
Again, ten years ago, I would have suggested to work with a trading company — they often try to do everything they can to keep the customer happy. But, as their margins eroded, they can’t play that game as well as in the past.
In contrast, manufacturers value their ‘direct’ customers (those they work with without any intermediary in the middle) more than indirect ones. And they understand more and more that saving a little money in the short term is not in their long-term best interest.
2. Maintain a long-term relationship
Do you show your suppliers that they are constantly at the risk of losing your orders? Do you switch to a competitor to save a few cents? In that case, suppliers might not value your business. They know they are always on the brink of losing it.
If you have purchased from the same source for 5 years, and if you run into quality issues, they will think twice before refusing to give you a rebate or a reimbursement for a mistake they have made.
3. Go and see them face to face often
If all your suppliers see is your emails, they don’t feel they know you, which means they don’t necessarily trust you or value your relationship. This is true in many Asian cultures.
So, go and meet with them face to face 4 times or more every year. Take a little time out of the meeting room. Eat lunch with them and talk about non-business subjects. Have dinner with them (a good tip: tell them you have a call at 9:30pm in your hotel).
On the other hand, don’t let them give you such a nice treatment that you feel obliged to you. They need to keep in mind that, should they make an expensive mistake, you will get back at them immediately.
4. Compare findings to agreed-upon specs
Hopefully you have a solid and detailed specification sheet that includes tolerances for acceptability.
(If you deal with soft goods, it might be an approved sample, along with boundary samples where needed.)
Make the problem obvious. Remind the factory people what standard they promised to comply with, and show them precisely how production is noncompliant.
5. Translate the issue into facts they can understand
Extra points if you understand where the issue comes from and you can point to what exact mistake they have made. Factory salespeople and managers often need to be shown what happened before they start to react.
For example: “you cut this part a bit too small, and now it doesn’t fit that other part”, or “die casting was done at the wrong pressure, and your mold can no longer close properly”.
I hope it’s helpful…
Obviously this is more true in consumer electronics than in footwear, for the simple reason that factories make more margin. Also, if the buyer has invested a lot of time developing a new product, the supplier knows he is captive to a certain extent, and this can be a positive or a negative. Take this as very, very general advice!
Renaud Anjoran has been managing his quality assurance agency (Sofeast Ltd) since 2006. In addition, a passion for improving the way people work has pushed him to launch a consultancy to improve factories and a web application to manage the purchasing process. He writes advice for importers on qualityinspection.org.