I have had a lot of requests lately from people asking me to help them source in China, everything from kids clothing to electronic toys. I do not take on just any product and usually if I am not interested in a project then I just point the person to a sourcing company in China who might be able to help them. And the other day this was the case with a person who came to me asking me to help them source some smoking paraphernalia in China. Not only am I opposed to smoking but I know nothing about it and for this reason I was not interested in accepting the project. But the guy seemed nice enough and judging by the drawings he sent to me he is far along in his product development and is very serious about taking his product to market. So I gave him the name of my contact in China but I also gave him some parting advice. That advice was simply to inspect his orders BEFORE they left China. This is the advice I give everyone but it occurred to me in that instant, when I was just thinking about one piece of useful advice I could offer someone who was about to start sourcing in China, that, yes, checking your orders before they ship from China is the only way you can guarantee that your vendor is delivering to you what you have paid for. If you inspect an order in China and you don’t like what you see you can ask the vendor to redo the order or you can just walk away. The most you stand to lose is your 30% deposit. The analogy I always use when explaining this to people is the shoe analogy. When you buy a pair of shoes the last thing you do at the register, before the sale is rung up and you take the shoes home, is to open the box to make sure the two shoes in the box are the same size, and that you have one left shoe and one right shoe. And this is exactly what you have to do when you have an order shipping from China: Verify.
The one caveat is that small companies or start ups operating on a budget do not have 5K to spend on a one week trip to China to inspect an order. Or they may not see it as good business sense to spend 5K to go inspect an order, the value of which may be less than the cost of the trip to China itself. This is understandable until you figure that if that order goes badly then you will not only lose your investment but may lose customers and your business as well, assuming you have taken orders that you will not be able to fulfill. I have one on and off client who got a bad order from China and four years later he is still selling off the defective product after repairing everything himself, piece by piece. I imagine it has also cost him a little money to warehouse the product, one container’s worth, in that time. And this is what I mean when I tell people to take the broad view and to always see China sourcing as a long term strategy. You may operate on razor thin margins at first or may even lose money but if this helps you get quality product to your customers and build your business it is probably worth it.