A client of mine told me today that it took him a few months to get samples from a new vendor in China. The only reasons I can think of are that either the vendor was super busy and not interested in doing a sample order for someone who is not yet a customer; or the vendor was subcontracting the sample order. In either case it is not a good sign that samples would have taken so long. Most samples take a couple weeks. A long sample order would be a month. 3 months for a sample screams unorganized.
When I negotiated with this vendor a few months ago, I found them very responsive. And my client said that the quality of the samples he has received has been good. The only problem is the sample lead time. In a situation like this I think you have to proceed carefully. If my client has it in his budget, he should have someone go inspect the factory and talk to the manger to find out why the samples have taken so long. A visit to the factory would probably answer a lot of questions. If my client does not have a factory audit in his budget then I think I would be very reluctant to give this vendor an order, the good quality of the samples notwithstanding.
I tend to look at sample orders as not only for testing the quality of a product but also for testing a vendor’s responsiveness and reliability. And I like to tell people that if they have a lot of trouble with a sample order, then imagine how difficult it will be when they have a production order shipping against a cancellation date. That is when China sourcing threatens your business.
A last thought: I have been in this situation before. You have a vendor that delivers you good quality samples within your target cost. Or you meet a vendor at a trade show with a great product. But they are unreliable in other ways e.g. not showing a particularly friendly or cooperative attitude when solving problems, not doing things when they have promised. As reluctant as you are you really need to move on. Because as I said above if the relationship has problems early on, those problems will only get worse later.