Some advice to a customer of mine

I currently have a client who is doing a production order in China for the first time.  She has been trying to do much of this on her own but lacking the China knowledge, she has come to me for help.  A lot has happened with this order prior to my getting involved and there is a lot to sort out.  I feel like a baseball manager who has been hired in mid-season. It is still early and the team is theoretically in contention but there are myriad problems to overcome.  The  other day I gave my client some advice that I think is good advice for first time importers from China or even for seasoned importers who might be having problems.  Here is part of my email to her ( edited for the purpose of publishing as a blog post).

1.) Use spec sheets if you are not already doing so. Find a format and have spec sheets for both product and packaging. When all info between customer and vendor is being transmitted via emails that is where problems happen. Sometimes there is so much info going back and forth that someone gets confused and before you know it you have 500 orange frames on your hands instead of the 500 blue frames you thought you had ordered. I don’t think it would be a bad idea to look through your emails to your vendor this week to see where you are on everything and then to send her a summary – to make sure you are on the same page. You never know but there may be a misunderstanding lurking somewhere.  If not corrected that misunderstanding comes out in production and then it is too late.

2.) Give yourself and your vendor more time on orders.  When things are rushed mistakes happen.  I think one reason things are not going well now is that everything has been rushed. Your vendor obviously has the sense that everything is urgent because that is the tone of many of your emails. It is always best to save the frantic emails for the really frantic situations.

3.) Communication is important.  There are times when you will really need an answer from your vendor on an order, perhaps for a ship date.  Set a good example for your vendor by answering their emails promptly.  If you don’t reply to them when they need an urgent answer they will not react favorably when the tables are turned and you are trying in vain to get an answer out of them.   And chain of communication is equally important. With this order there does not seem to be a clear chain of communication.   You are emailing the vendor.  Ms. A is emailing him,  Ms E  is emailing him and you have even asked that I email him.  Ideally all the communication with the vendor should go through one person.  Early on the  communication rules should be established so that the vendor and anyone in your office know who is going to communicate with whom.  Going forward before you do an order in China sit down and consider the order in all its complexity.  Think and then shoot. Don’t shoot and then think.

4.) When China orders are late, 50% of the time it is the customer’s fault.  50% of the time it is the vendor’s fault.  This is from my experience working at companies – big and small – over the last 15-20 years. When the customer is at fault it is because they fail to get the vendor the information the vendor needs to make the order or they give the vendor the wrong information.  When the vendor is at fault, it is usually because they do not manage their production well or because of worker or weather problems.

5.)  Talk to your vendor occasionally. Ms. E speaks good English ( her husband is American). It would not be a bad idea to skype her sometime just to touch base.  I have already chatted with her a few times.  You should do so as well.