10 Tips for Finding Quality Manufacturers in China
China is the manufacturing capital of the world for good reason: they can make virtually any product you can imagine and they can generally do it cheaper than any other country. If you’re sourcing & importing from China and/or selling private label products online, or in any retail capacity, chances are that you’re having those products manufactured in China.
And you’re not alone. In just 2015, China exported almost 500 billion dollars worth of trade goods into the USA! So the quest then becomes how to find quality manufacturers in China. As businesses continue to look for ways of cutting production costs and increasing profit margins, they are outsourcing more of their production and manufacturing operations to China.
The successful businesses spend significant time and effort finding and vetting suppliers to ensure their quality standards are met. While this sounds like standard operating procedure, it's a much more daunting task than most realize. It’s not uncommon to find hundreds of factories that have the capabilities to manufacture your product; and all of them will do practically anything to try and win your business. This is where the challenge lies.
Finding a quality manufacturer in China that can not only meet your production needs, but also your quality requirements can be an almost maddening task. In fact, a quick search of the internet will reveal hundreds of nightmare stories regarding Chinese suppliers: fly-by-night operations, scams, incorrect product shipments, shoddy quality, holding orders hostage, etc. This is why it is absolutely essential to perform your due diligence when searching for a supplier.
Here are 10 tips that can help you reduce your risk when choosing quality manufacturers in China to produce your private label products:
- Online Directories - While sites like Alibaba, HKTDC, Global Sources, Made-In-China, DHgate, and Global Market offer convenient listings of thousands of suppliers, they rarely offer any type of assurance that the suppliers are legitimate. In fact, on many of these directories, suppliers can purchase a “star” rating or other similar badging or award status that is supposed to instill confidence in potential buyers. So instead of actually earning a good reputation, they can simply purchase that status. Overall, Global Sources tends to have the better quality manufacturers, as they do indeed perform some sort of vetting process and hold accepted suppliers to a higher standard than most.
- Order Samples the RIGHT way - When you find quality manufacturers in China that meet your initial requirements, always request multiple samples from them. There are many horror stories out there that are very similar and all of them have to do with the fact that the samples the factory sent out to customers were not the same as the final product. Ordering only 1 or 2 samples gives the supplier a chance to make the perfect, high quality version of your product and pass it off as a sample of the final product. As shady as that sounds, it happens. You can minimize the chances of this happening by ordering 10-50 samples (depending on the product cost/size etc). Explain that you need samples for all of your reps or stores and make sure to try and negotiate the cost of these samples being subtracted from the product order. Factories will usually do this if it means that you will place an actual order. To recoup the sample costs, you can list them on Ebay, Amazon FBM, or other platforms, which will also provide some insight and validation if it is a new product.
- Background Checks - If you find a potential quality Chinese manufacturer online, it’s a good idea to conduct at least a basic background check on them. You can obtain business credit reports, licenses, bank information and other relevant data from various public sources online. But unless you know where to find this and can read Mandarin, it’s usually a better idea to purchase a report with this information from one of the companies who specialize in this field such as Examine China. This will give you a good overview of the supplier and allow you to make an informed decision on whether or not to pursue a business relationship with them.
- Discuss Subcontracting with Supplier - Many suppliers subcontract out to increase profits. Whether they have the entire product made somewhere else, or outsource certain parts or raw materials, you are taking on more risk in terms of quality. Make sure to discuss this topic with potential suppliers and find out if they will subcontract any portion of your product to another factory. Regardless of their answer, it would be prudent to add a subcontracting clause to your contract to cover any issues that should arise from this practice.
- Don’t Choose Based on Price Alone - The allure of outsourcing production to China is the much lower cost of labor. But don’t make the grave mistake of trying to pick a supplier solely based on price. As we detailed in our previous post on Chinese Suppliers, a factory offering the lowest price, or a low-price guarantee is a recipe for disaster. The old adage of “you get what you pay for” is more true in China than almost anywhere else. You can be absolutely sure that if a factory is offering you the lowest price (by a significant amount) they are either going to recoup those costs in some additional charge, or far more likely, and worse, they will use cheap materials and your product quality will suffer.
- Ask if They Have US Customers - Typically if a factory exports to the USA in any substantial capacity, it generally means that they are capable of producing quality products. Conversely, if the majority of a suppliers’ customers are in the Middle East, it’s usually a safe bet that their quality is less than ideal. By and large, goods sold in the Middle East are of lower quality than most western countries. We can say this with confidence based on our years of experience sourcing and finding quality manufacturers in China-and unfortunately a fair share of terrible suppliers who we add to our blacklist that we've maintained for almost a decade.
- Become an Expert on Your Product - You absolutely need to be an expert on your product. If a supplier suspects you are just “winging it”, they will be far more likely to take advantage of you. The onus is on you to find out all of the relevant specifications and details about your product: material makeup, specs, tolerances, required certifications, manufacturing processes, etc. This is why we urge all of our customers to complete a spec sheet (which we provide) before seeking a supplier. (A sample of a very comprehensive product spec sheet can be found in our post here.) Do some research and prepare questions about your product before reaching out to suppliers so that you can more effectively vet them and decide which ones are not only competent but capable.
- Avoid Long Emails - When emailing a potential supplier, be cognizant of the fact that English is not their native language. In fact, many factories we deal with don’t have any english speakers on staff. So you can assume that at least some of them are going to use some sort of translation software to convert your email to Mandarin. Thus it is absolutely essential to keep communications brief and to the point. We suggest you utilize bullet points or a numbered list, as you will find that suppliers usually reply back more often to emails that are formatted as such. Why? It’s just easier to digest short sentences and reply back to each bullet/number individually.
- Sourcing Fairs - One of the best ways to find quality manufacturers in China is attend any of the various industry fairs throughout the Mainland and Hong Kong. The good news is that there are many available sourcing fairs to choose from. The bad news is that you’ll need to spend the time and money to fly here to China so that you can actually attend these fairs in person. It’s also worth noting that traveling to China requires a bit more work than just getting a passport. Depending on where you are going, you will need a Chinese visa and possibly a special permit. All of these take time so be sure to check the requirements and plan at least 3 months ahead of time. Even though traveling to China is a hassle, there is no better way to evaluate potential manufacturing partners than to meet with them face-to-face.
- Visit the Factory - If at all possible, you should personally visit the factory, or send a representative to do so. You would be astounded by the extent to which suppliers will go to make it seem like they are a large, legitimate factory. We’ve seen numerous examples of shady suppliers utilize fake photos to give the impression that they are a manufacturing powerhouse. And it’s even considered acceptable practice for smaller suppliers and trading companies to hold meetings and give tours of other manufacturers impressive facilities and claim is as their own! They will typically bring signage to cover up the actual factory’s name and logo so it appears as if it is, indeed, their own facility. Thus, if you decide to visit the factory, do your homework and make sure their registered address matches the address they give you for your visit.
Is There an Easier Way?
If you do not want to go through the hassle of identifying quality manufacturers in China or visiting facilities, then your best bet would be to hire an external sourcing agency or supply chain management (SCM) company. The good news is that there are many agencies out there with many years of experience in doing business with China, like Guided Imports. We even have a full team operating right here in China to make the process that much more convenient for you. We are one of the only sourcing and importing companies that is USA owned and operated. Our customers tell us there is something very comforting having fellow US citizens who are actually in China helping them with their business. You get the dedication, work ethic, and quality standards of America with the added benefit of low Chinese pricing.
Sourcing suppliers and finding quality manufacturers in China is a unique process, and for many, a new experience. Trying to locate quality suppliers that are a good fit is an important step for your business and often one of the most difficult. The best advice we can offer is this: when in doubt, ask for help. We’ve had many customers call us in a panic after trying to source, manufacture and/or import from China on their own, only to have some disaster or crisis happen that forced them to seek professional help.
The Quest for Quality Manufacturers in China is Fraught with Danger.
Talk to anyone with significant business experience in China and they will absolutely tell you that China is the “Wild, Wild West”. It is a completely different business culture that requires an experienced hand to mitigate potential catastrophes. If you do business in China long enough, you will certainly experience at least one disaster. Guaranteed. Having someone on the ground can help avoid these costly mistakes is a huge advantage. The good news is that we’ve made (and learned from) our mistakes and have become very proficient at preventing them.
The value of having U.S. team on the ground in China cannot be overstated. Feel free to give us a call; we’d appreciate the opportunity to earn your business and demonstrate why Guided Imports is the #1 choice for companies that want to grow by outsourcing their China-side business transactions. We specialize in sourcing from China, Amazon FBA, as well as every service needed to effectively optimize your supply chain and get the best quality products made in China.