A little wisdom goes a long way when you source in China

I had an inquiry from a small company in Australia this week. This inquiry was like so many I get from small companies or start-ups that have an idea for a product but no idea how to source it. I thought the individual who wrote to me showed great wisdom because she said she had been considering a trip to China to meet a supplier she had found on alibaba until she realized that that might not be a good idea. She wrote:

we had been planning to take a trip to China to get some samples and designs sorted with one supplier we had found online, but I decided we really didn’t know enough about what we were doing to take the step of flying there when ….. we didn’t have any back up options had we not been satisfied with them ( the supplier).

To this I replied:

You have made a wise decision in cancelling the trip to China, if all that would have been involved was meeting one supplier you met on alibaba. Those China trips are expensive, not to mention tiring, and you should always get as much out of them as you can.

My best advice to her was to line up some vendors over the next couple of months and then consider attending the Canton or Hong Kong sourcing fairs in the fall. At that time she could meet with all the vendors she had been in discussions with as well as many new vendors at the fairs. This is the way to start sourcing in China. Yet too many people I meet are just so anxious to get started, believing that they have re-invented the automobile, that they rush into an order with a supplier they know nothing about and what results is almost always a fiasco.

She went on to say how she had identified the need to work with someone who knows China as they get started over there.

We are now at the stage where we are ready to source a manufacturer and are ready to fly over there to get the ball rolling, but feel we need the services of someone with plenty of experience in this area to assist us in making sure we are doing so in the smartest, best-informed manner possible …… We obviously do not speak any of the language and although have both been on short holidays to China, are definitely not well acquainted with the country, so we would love to have someone who can source suppliers for us and who can help us to arrange our initial trip there and advise us on the process.

Smart thinking. Trying to navigate China on your own is just not wise. You can lose a lot of money there if you are not careful in your choice of suppliers. And even when you are careful you can still lose money if you let your guard down. It is just not an easy place to do business. The more knowledge you have on your team going in, the better you will do. If you have to pay for that knowledge I would say that is a good investment.

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