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Importing Basics – Top 10 Important Points For Quality When Buying From China
This is lead paint on a toy given to children. This is a computer mouse that seriously surprises the user. It seems like each new day brings a wave of product recalls and safety alerts about products that come from China. Importers and distributors of promotional products are just as susceptible as retailers to the damaging business and reputational impact that distributing a hazardous product can have. As many of us in the product promotion industry deal with Chinese suppliers on a daily basis, the following strategies can serve as a guide to ensure that you receive only the highest quality product from overseas.
10. Know Who You’re Working With – When you’re buying products from China it’s often difficult to know if you’re working with a factory, a trading company, or something in between. When it comes to product and quality issues, it is important that you know who you are working with, and that the relationship is clear to all parties. If you are not working directly with the manufacturer and the supplier cannot give you satisfactory answers about the product, then they are blocking the search process for you and you need to rethink the relationship. If you are having trouble putting your finger on who you are working with you should contact a company that specializes in China Supplier Verification.
9. Keep Emails Short, Sweet and to the Point – I have a lot of respect for how much English is used by local Chinese staff who have never lived in an English speaking country. However, from my experience doing business in China for more than 7 years, I can tell you that your China-based supplier probably only understands about 50% of what you write in emails. Keep this in mind the next time you start a lengthy explanation or proposal with an overseas supplier. English is not the first language of man. Keep your emails simple and your directions clear.
8. Payment to Chinese Suppliers – Wire Transfer (W/T) or Letter of Credit (L/C)? – Having a safe and well-communicated payment arrangement in place before you place your order is beneficial to both parties and one of the parameters of a relationship that encourages quality. Unless you have a long-standing relationship and trust with your supplier, then L/C should always be your preferred payment method. If you have never used an L/C before, contact your bank’s business department for assistance.
7. Save Money and Headaches with 3rd party Quality Check (“QC”) – Working with a 3rd party QC company in China allows you to gain the experience of companies whose entire mission is to ensure that the quality of products meets certain standards. These companies provide services such as product inspection, factory auditing, and lab testing. The service is usually available at a fixed rate that provides a great value relative to the total cost of your purchase (approximately $350 to inspect a shipment of goods). The most famous Chinese companies that provide QC services are InTouch Services, Bureau Veritas, and Intertek Testing.
6. Confirm Your Production Schedule – Don’t Get Bumped! – Receiving your order from China on time is just as important as receiving the right product. Chinese factories are notorious for ditching less important (to them) production when a more profitable order comes through the door. Quality issues are more likely to occur as a result of the supplier rushing to meet the schedule they promised you. So, make sure you ask the right questions and get answers by email. These questions include: a) When will production begin? Be 50% done? Complete? Ship out? (Confirm that these milestones have been reached) b) Has all the raw materials for this order reached the factory? What about all the packaging materials?
5. Don’t Be Afraid of the Phone – Email can only communicate so well. When going back and forth with an overseas supplier, does it sometimes seem like they just don’t “get it”? The time difference can be a pain, but don’t let that stop you from arranging a conference call with your overseas supplier. Online phone like Skype, which almost everyone in China is familiar with, makes it easy and free for you to communicate with contacts in China. Although it may not be possible for a supplier with a low level of English speaking ability, I suggest never placing an order if you don’t even have a phone conversation.
4. Verify Raw Materials or Risk All – It is absolutely integral to the quality of your product that you know what materials are used, and request documentation from the supplier that the materials are safe. The US continues to see recall after recall of products manufactured with sub-standard materials. For example, if the item you are buying is white plastic, one should make sure that the white plastic meets the general flammability standards. If the item is likely to come into contact with food, make sure it is food grade. You should assume that the factory you buy from China will use the cheapest materials possible unless you specify otherwise. Insist that your supplier provide you with written verification. The FDA and other US organizations have regulations on where plastics, metals and other materials can be safely distributed. If your supplier cannot verify this, contact a 3rd party QC company for guidance.
3. Samples Are Worth a Thousand Photos – When working with China you should insist on getting samples as often as possible. Do not accept excuses unless there is a serious obstacle (ie no existing mold). Be sure to label and store these samples properly, and each time you receive a new sample compare it carefully with the last one you received. Do not confirm with a Chinese factory that production can proceed until you have approved a pre-production sample. You can catch many quality issues before they happen simply by putting this process in place.
2. Don’t Expect, Inspect! – About the simplest, least expensive, and most efficient way to eliminate quality issues with your Chinese-made product is to inspect it before it leaves the Chinese factory. The best way to arrange such an inspection is with a 3rd party QC company (mentioned above in #7), but it can also be arranged by your own staff in Asia, or your agent. You should insist on seeing the inspection report in English (including photos) documenting the process.
1. Product QC Checklist – Poor communication during the ordering process is the cause of most quality issues with China-based suppliers. A sure way to improve this communication is a Product QC Checklist. The QC Checklist is a multi-page document that details in writing all the important aspects of the goods you purchase. This is best done with the help of a 3rd party QC company that specifically offers this service, but you can do a simple and effective one yourself by following the points below. For more on creating a QC Checklist check Quality Wars my blog about QC. The key points that should be included in this checklist are:
a) Item details (item number, SKU description, etc.)
b) Contents and Packaging
e) Appearance and Activity
f) Specifications and Special Requirements
Make sure you have a professional translation of this document into Chinese, and make the QC Checklist the starting point for discussing production and quality with your supplier. You may find that you don’t have many of the details that the QC Checklist asks for. If that is the case then I suggest you create the template and send it to your supplier to fill out. There is no shortage of promotional product companies now working directly with overseas suppliers. With all the horror stories we hear about lost import orders, you can distinguish yourself by consistently delivering the best quality. Your customers will undoubtedly appreciate your hard work, and ability to speak intelligently about your focus on quality.
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