By Jacob Yount
Imagine you’re in the China factory that you want to order from. Chinese factory, Vietnamese, even a USA factory. For this concept, it really doesn’t matter…
You walk by the desk of your primary contact with a stack of documents in hand and drop it with a thud and say “here’s what I need.”
Before the contact realizes what happened, they see the dust from the back of your shoes; you’re walking out the door.
Should they go out the door and call you back to discuss what you just haphazardly dropped in front of them?
Maybe they think, “hey, if this was important, surely they’d explain it.”
Are they to pick up a highlighter and start combing through every jot and tittle finding out the key points?
Can you trust they’ll even do this?
This is how buyers frequently pass specifications to factories.
Sure, they’re not literally throwing documents on a desk.
But they’re doing it by email or whatever form of chat medium.
- PDF files with blobs of specs.
- Incoherent emails that are streams of thought.
- Designs and renderings without explanation.
- Quality/certification requirements and no effort to assure the factory can implement.
“See all the documents attached and let me know if you have any questions.”
Factories, especially overly eager sales contacts, say they understand when they don’t.
Chinese factories and sales contacts don’t have an idea if they have questions or that there are any questions that should be asked!
They see the files and many, not all, but many, think “yeah, yeah, yeah, we got it”.
3 weeks go by and the the buyer sees a discrepancy in production and asks about such and such.
Then the buyer exasperatingly proclaims, “It was on the documents, how could you miss this??!!!”
Let’s back up a bit and define what I mean by specifications.
- These could come directly from YOU the buyer.
- Product specs, manufacturing details, lead time requirements, certification needs.
- These spec could come from a brand or a fulfillment center. Often the brand or fulfillment center doesn’t provide the factory this information but it comes from the importer or buyer.
In short, it’s what the factory needs to know to do their job well and the project to be a success.
Proper way of passing specifications:
Simplify: Are there details that you can take out?
Give the factory what’s pertinent to the factory. Too much detail muddles their focus.
I’ve seen factories earnestly attempt to perform a requirement that wasn’t meant for them.
This screws things up.
Picture = 1000 words: Use mockups and drawing when possible. Mini videos showing what you’re talking about.
Don’t always think about how to convey a concept but think about how to SHOW a concept.
If there’s physical samples you can send, don’t not send them because you’re trying to save a few bucks.
Keep in mind though that when you send samples, still label and explain the point of focus on the sample. Avoid the factory making an incorrect interpretation of what you’re sending.
This rings true for photos as well.
Explain, rinse and repeat: Everything you send should be backed up by explanation.
When you send a wave of specifications, schedule time to touch base with the supplier.
Strive to assure understanding.
Cultural differences abound; language, thinking, all create different understandings.
Points are misunderstood. You wrote it crystal clear…from your point of view that is. Will a production line leader in China understand it the same way you meant it?
If there’s a question that needs asking, the factory has an odd way of not asking.
I don’t know. They’re busy, they didn’t realize they needed to ask, they think you’re a jerk, who knows, but it happens.
That’s why you just don’t mass dump info.
Mixing important specifications with too much “don’t-need-to-know” info…
What’s important, what’s more important than the non-important, what’s fluff, priority 1, etc… You get the picture.
Let’s say you’re doing Amazon Fulfillment, don’t just send the vendor the complete file and expect them to precisely follow it.
That could be disastrous.
The same applies from corporate brand file requirements or other fulfillment centers.
The document shows all kinds of fulfillment requirements, different forms of quality control methods, you name it. The specifications in this document may have their own importances but not all tidbits in the document are pertinent to YOUR ORDER.
If it isn’t ALL important, don’t send ALL to your vendor.
Parse through the need-to-knows and make your own document.
Don’t simply ask because “brand requires it” or “customs requires it”.
Make the requirements, you’re requirements.
Know what you’re asking!
Why does this happen?
I couldn’t tell you why it happens for each individual case but here’s some experienced speculation:
- Naïveté: The buyer doesn’t know any better and they think their vendor understands things like they do. The buyer is also still bound by the Assumption God and they think “if the factory has questions then they’ll ask“. (I think I’ve typed this concept now over 200 times in my attempts of showing how erroneous this thinking is…)
- Buyer is lazy when mass specifications come from a fulfillment center or a brand they’re sourcing for. They haven’t spent the time going through the document to discern what’s important for their vendor. If the buyer doesn’t take the time to read and understand, they won’t know if the factory properly implements the requirements.
The good that comes from all of it…
Once you open the communication and habitual routines of explaining things to your vendor, you’re reaping a few benefits.
- This is actual training to your vendor. You’re showing them how you communicate and showing them that you expect them to reciprocate. If they’re worth their weight in salt, they’ll pick up (albeit slightly) on what you’re doing.
- It lays the ground work for further re-orders. Again, you’re not completely off the hook but you’re growing a confidence that once you give specifications to the SAME vendor, they remember and can implement previous paths discussed.
- It helps YOU. You learn how to spotlight key points and ditch things. Everything cannot be important. Especially everything cannot be important to your vendor. Does you vendor need to know about how the receiving facility handles domestic shipments? No, then why’s it on the document???
Take nothing for granted, and hopefully, after awhile, possibly, maybe, your vendor starts filling in the blanks…after awhile.
Did you notice I said after awhile?
Either way, it will make you sharper!
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.