Some things to keep in mind for first-time China goers.

I was on a skype call with a prospective client the other day. She has a new product/business and would like to start sourcing in China. She has approached some manufacturers here in the US but with no success. Not only are costs to make her product, an apparel item, prohibitive in the US but she said the response she received from companies was tepid at best. Some of them didn’t even respond to her which is odd given her professional background and serious level of inquiry.

She had some questions for me which I answered. Her questions and my answers might be useful to others who are thinking about sourcing in China so here they are:

Question:

Does one need to speak Chinese to do business in China?

My answer:

No, it is not necessary and there are plenty of people who do business in China and who do not speak Chinese. But here is a fun, and I think reasonable way to look at it: not knowing Chinese will never help you and may hurt you. On the other hand, knowing Chinese will never hurt you and may very well help you. The big picture is that the Chinese want you to respect them and one of the best ways to show them respect is to make an effort to learn their language. This does not mean you have to go down to your local college first thing Monday morning and sign up for an intensive Mandarin course but you should at least  learn some greetings and maybe even a few proverbs, your knowledge of which will make a good impression on the people you meet in China. Just remember, big companies can afford to hire locals with good English skills to help them in China. Small companies must do everything on their own.

Question:

How do I find and settle on a supplier?

My answer:

Locating good suppliers is just a process of establishing contact, sending out samples and requesting counter samples and working with vendors to get to your target costs and achieve product quality you are happy with. One thing to pay close attention to when you are feeling out suppliers is how well do they communicate with you.  Do they reply to your emails promptly or do they make you wait ?  Are their answers to your questions perfunctory or thoughtful ? Do you have a feeling that they want your business ?  Just remember this: if the communication is sporadic to begin with, it will not be any better once you order. And in fact it may get worse as you ask more questions requiring more thoughtful and detailed answers.

If you are working with printed patterns then you will need to provide vendors with all artwork and pantones. I have often said that one really needs to finalize design before approaching vendors. Some of these vendors are very busy and if you approach them with a design and then change that design along the way they get frustrated. And it sends them the message that you are not organized/professional. So the first step is to finalize your design and have all the artwork on file.

Question:

How much will it cost to get samples?

My answer:

Cost of samples will vary depending on your design. If you want to use printed fabric with your own design, of course there will be a charge to cut a screen (usually $100-$200.00). If you have definite material or fabric requests then you need to send your vendors swatches and let them source for you. Often when you have specific material requests vendors may not have adequate stock of that material on hand and may have to use a substitute fabric. This is OK. A note on zippers: You should specify YKK because Chinese zippers are pretty bad. And even with YKK you have to be careful because there are plenty of fake YKK zippers in China.

Question:

What should I do to protect my designs/product in China ?

My answer:

For protecting all IP it is a good idea to register your trademark in China as well as in the US/Canada. The cost to register a trademark in China is 600-1000 USD if you use a Chinese lawyer and probably 3 or 4 times that much if you use a lawyer in CAN or the US. The key about IP is this: Don’t be paranoid about having someone take your name in China. Big companies are most often the targets. But don’t be nonchalant about your IP either. Stuff happens in China and you just want to do all your DD and take the same precautions you would take in your own country when starting a business, and this includes registering all IP.

Question:

If I work with you how can you guarantee that I will get what I order ?

My answer:

No matter who you work with when you do an order in China and no matter how good you think your supplier is you can never be 100% sure that what you order is what you are going to get. All you can do is try to reduce your risk. And this means vetting your suppliers before you give them orders, showing up occasionally to make sure they are keeping your company’s standards in mind, and checking your orders in China before they ship and you have to pay for them in full.

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