How to evaluate a potential China supplier. A useful tip.

Sometimes when I have a sourcing project I will send out an extensive questionnaire to potential suppliers. I usually draw up the questionnaire with my client and we try to cover all the clients’ needs on the questionnaire, from particular machines to production capacity.

As I see it, the questionnaire serves three purposes as follows:

1.) A completed questionnaire tells me what the vendor is capable of in terms of production capacity and quality standards. It will tell me about their QC and production process and who their sub-contractors are, if any. It will tell me about the size of their office and factory and how far one is from the other ( a very important piece of info). If my client has specific requirements in terms of machines e.g. a kiln for drying furniture this will be detailed on the questionnaire. Of course, there is no assurance that what the vendor fills out is in fact the truth, but follow up factory audits with questionnaire in hand should reveal any discrepancies. For example let’s say your vendor has answered on the questionnaire that they do not use sub-contractors. But when you are on-site for a factory audit you ask them about the machine embroidered logo for your product and they cannot show you where it is made. Well, right then you know they have out-sourced it.

2.) A questionnaire will tell me how earnest the supplier is. If the vendor fills out the questionnaire completely and offers a lot of information then I know they will probably be good to work with come production time. If a vendor sends back a questionnaire that is incomplete then right there that is a warning sign. You would be surprised at the character of responses I get when I send these out, but the good factories always fill out the questionnaire thoroughly.

3.) The questionnaire tells the vendor that you are organized and probably have experience dealing with a lot of factories. Right then it puts you in a position of authority.

I also think that you should ask for extensive photos of facilities when you are evaluating new suppliers. Sometimes you can tell just from one photo how a vendor might be to work with. I remember getting photos from one vendor last year. I had asked them to send me photos of their factory. One of the photos showed a container being loaded, and the cartons were just jammed in. I knew this was not the way to load a container – especially when the product is wooden furniture as it was in this case – and right there I had doubts about the vendor.

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