Working around sampling fees

I have recently been working on a project helping a customer source acrylic trays for kids. Many vendors I have talked to have told me that because these are injection moulded custom pieces I would have to pay a mould fee to get a sample. This is very reasonable until one considers that in China mould fees for injection molded or machine tooled product ( simple products) can run anywhere from $ 1000.00 – $5, 000. The average seems to be about $ 3000.00. Vendors usually say that they will return the mould fee if your order hits a certain QTY ( one FTY told me the sample fee would be refunded after an order of a mere 80,000 pcs.) but this does not diminish the fact that you are being asked to pay several thousand dollars for one sample.

There are a couple of ways around this as follows:

1.) Tell your vendor that you cannot pay a mould fee and ask them if they have any product similar in size to the one you are looking for. Many vendors have hundreds of moulds so it is possible they will have a mould that will be very similar to the one you are sourcing, maybe off by just a few cm ( of course this depends on what you are looking for) . Just make sure to tell them that you are prepared to move on if they don’t have the mould you want. If the vendor wants your business they will do everything possible to accommodate you.

2.) When you are making contact with factories ask them up front if they can do prototype moulding – which typically costs a few hundred dollars or can effect a mould by hand. This is a process whereby hard plastic is cut by a machine according to a CAD and then spray painted. Samples done this way can be a little rough but they will nevertheless give you a good idea of the FTYs craftsmanship. Many big plastics factories in China have this capability. When you let a vendor know right off the bat that you are aware of prototype molding and are looking for a vendor who can offer this service, you are effectively telling them that you do not wish to pay a lot for a sample and they may be willing to work with you on this.

In short, it is always a good idea to question your vendor if they want you to pay a mould charge because many vendors, as one would expect, are simply using the mould charge as a pretext for getting a payment from you (in fact, one vendor I approached told me the mould charge would be $ 6000.00 and when I balked at this they promptly reduced it to $ 2,000.00 which just told me this was a vendor I wanted to avoid).

Remember, if a vendor really wants your business the mould charge will not be an issue.

Sourcing online: caveat emptor

As a rule I try to discourage people from sourcing on sites like alibaba and global sources for several reasons:

– You have absolutely no idea who the vendors are. Certifications like “Gold Supplier” and “ISO 9000” are more easily obtained than one would expect and give buyers a false sense of security.

– 50% of the vendors you contact never get back to you and the seductively low prices one sees are often attached to unattainable MOQs. In short you can spend a whole afternoon contacting vendors on alibaba and get absolutely nowhere (I don’t know anyone who has not done this).

– There is simply no substitute for meeting a vendor in person and visiting their FTY. For this reason, trade fairs are much better venues to meet vendors.

This is not to say that there are not good vendors to be found on sites like alibaba. Of course there are. But you really need to do your due diligence before you enter into an agrement with any vendor you meet online and this includes getting samples and visiting their FTY ( hopefully).

A case in point is a vendor I met at last month’s Canton Fair. I was at the fair sourcing bags for a customer of mine and had found this particular vendor on the Exhibitor List and contacted them prior to my visit to China. The vendor has a very nice website and I somewhat expected that they would have an equally presentable booth at the fair and a wide selection of bags ( my customer was equally impressed with the vendor’s website and wide array of product). I would add that the person I had corresponded with prior to my trip always replied to my emails promptly and in flawless English, leading me to believe that I was dealing with a company that could count many overseas customers and had the experience to service them. When I visited the company at the fair, however, their booth was nothing short of dingy (see picture) and their selection of bags was nowhere near what I had seen on their website ( obviously because their space at the show was limited). The cherry on the cake, however, was they did not even have batteries in their digital camera to take photos of a bag I had requested samples on. Based on everything I saw at the show (or should I say didn’t see) I could not recommend this company to my customer.

As they say in China, 百闻不如一见 ( bai wen bu ru yi jian). Seeing is believing.