Some tips for first time China travelers Pt. 2

Travelling accessories

Make sure you buy a fanny pack for your wallet and passport.  There is very little violent crime in China but pickpockets abound.  I have known at least one person who had their passport stolen and she had to wait two weeks before the US Consulate could arrange a replacement for her. So be careful about this especially in crowded areas.  Fanny Packs are the way to go. Check with your airline regarding luggage restrictions and take over a half-empty suitcase if you can. You will do a lot of shopping in China and will need the extra suitcase for your return trip home.  Also make sure to take an adapter set with you.  You may need to use your hair-dryer or recharge your digital camera. China uses 220v and there are several types of plugs in use in China so you should buy an adapter set instead of a single adapter.

Food & Water

The restaurants in the hotels can be quite good. But they are expensive.  You will save a lot of money if you eat outside your hotel.  The food can be just as good and you will experience the thrill of eating in a real Chinese restaurant.  There are usually lots of restaurants around the hotels and these are recommended as they tend to be a little friendlier and may very well have menus in English, given their proximity to the hotels.  But do yourself a favor and try to get out of the hotel to eat.  The one exception is Breakfast.  The Breakfast buffets in the western style hotels are wonderful and a great way to start your day in China.

The water is fine. Bottled water that is.  But only drink the bottled water that you have bought in a drugstore chain or hotel kiosk. The reason ?  There is fake bottled water in China too.  And make sure not to complain about the water or food when you are in China.  This will not sit well with locals.

Taxis  

Getting around by taxis is cheap.  But trying to hail a taxi in a big city like Shanghai or Guangzhou can be a challenge.  And even more so if you are a foreigner.  Many cab drivers will not pick up foreigners because they know most foreigners cannot speak Chinese and you can easily spend an hour or two trying to hail a cab around rush hour.   So choose a hotel that is near a subway or public transportation line or hire a guide to take you around.

Hire a guide  

If you are going to China for the first time and will not be on a group tour then I would highly recommend trying to line up a guide beforehand.  One way to do this might be to look on Craigslist for the city where you are headed to see if there are some students offering guide/interpreter services.  A quick check of Craigslist Shanghai shows plenty.   You may be able to interview some candidates on Skype and make a decision that way.  Needless to say, you do not want to pay anyone anything before you have met them.  You can also ask the Concierge where you are staying if they can recommend a guide.  But finding a guide on your own on CL is probably much cheaper.

Keep your complaints to yourself  

In China you will encounter a lot of situations that will make you shake your head.  But at no time should you get angry or articulate your dissatisfaction to people.  The one exception would be in the hotel where you are staying. In short, tell yourself not to be an Ugly American when you travel abroad.

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Asking vendors for references – don’t waste your time

What people are saying about the EAC blog:

I want to thank you for your very informative and helpful blog. I took over the day to day management of a small sourcing agency based in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam about a year ago and your blog has proven invaluable.
-from a sourcing agent in Vietnam

I am evaluating some suppliers now and, as I always do with these projects, I ask suppliers to list companies they have manufactured for. This will give me an idea of how global they are, if they are used to things like audits – in the case of Wal- Mart suppliers – and the quality and range of product they are capable of producing. However, I have no way of knowing whether the info they provide to me is truthful or, if it is truthful whether the vendor in questions was a good supplier for the companies they have listed. I have worked with some vendors over the years who did orders for global brands but their quality or delivery time left so much to be desired that I knew it was pretty much one order and out. But yet they always dropped the names of these brands when trying to solicit new business.

There are China sourcing companies who advise getting references from factories and actually checking them out. If the firm will not let you check their references, they say this is a red flag and advise not doing business with them. In fact this advice sounds more practical than it is for several reasons:

1.) Checking references is not really part of the Asian business culture, at least not in the two countries where I have experience, Japan and China. If you are applying for a job you may be asked to submit references. But people will most likely not check them. This is in stark contrast to the US where checking references is regarded as a critical step in the process of hiring someone. China vendors do not understand this.

2.) You are potentially asking for a reference of a company whose product you compete with. There is conflict of interest written all over this, for both you and the vendor. Vendors not knowing the market in your country may think you are a competitor of their current customer and that their current customer would not be pleased if they found out their vendor was making product for their competitor.

3.) Most China vendors will in fact not be willing to provide you with contact info of a company they have manufactured for. I have always assumed this but to test this assumption – and for this blog post – I emailed 3 vendors and asked them if they would be wiling to provide me with contact info of their vendors should I give them an order:
Here are the replies I received:

Vendor A

It is illegal to get out our customers information. I am sorry that we are not able to do against our company’s rule. I would like to let you know the brands we produced and mass production now, Company Name in US, Company Name and Company Name in UK. These brands are in middle-range market and high-range market. Regarding the others you concerned, when we start to do business, we could get to know more about each other and cooperate very well! Welcome to your trial order to start our business!!

Vendor B

Actually, we have the experience to provide New Customers with our old Customers in formations that we have worked with, but there is never any one asking for contact information. But for me, unless the one that i know they are really a big and good one, then i will provide the contact information to them. otherwise no need. But also, i think we need to confirm with our old Customers first whether they will allowed us to provide their contact information to others.

Vendor C
Before giving you the Company Name. contact information ,I need to ask if they would like to give their information to others? Once I get their approval, I will give you it!

Even though Vendor C said they would consider giving me contact info, I tend to believe they would not in fact do so, as they make it contingent on their customer’s approval. So what you are doing here is potentially writing off good vendors because the will not provide you with contact info, for one reason or another. I think more than anything then asking for vendors contact info is another example of taking western business concepts and forcing them onto your China vendors.

So what do I suggest you do instead ? Run a credit report on your vendor. This will provide you with some valuable information on which to base a decision to go foward with them or not. And if you visit the factory prior to giving your vendor an order you can ask them to show you invoices of previous overseas companies they have done production for. By looking at the dates on the invoices you can get a pretty good idea if the vendor maintains pricing and QC standards. Most vendors should be willing to share this info with you.

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The best way to find a reliable supplier in China. Part 1 of 4

The next several blog posts will outline what I think is the most methodical, efficient way to find a reliable supplier in China: meeting a vendor in at a trade show in China, working with them on samples over an extended time and visiting and auditing their facility before you give them an order.

In a previous blog post I outlined the four ways people generally find China vendors which are as follows:

1.) Popular online B2B sites like alibaba

2.) Factory referrals

3.) Trade shows

4.) Overseas based China agents

As I said in my previous blog post, meeting anonymous vendors online is fraught with risk; getting referrals sounds great but in fact it is very difficult to do and may not always work out as you would expect ; and when you work with agents they pick the factories, not you ( in many cases these are factories they have close relationships with which can be either very good or very bad for you) . So that leaves only one option: to attend a trade fair in China. I believe that attending a trade fair is simply the best way to find a China supplier and put you yourself in full control of your China production, while substantially reducing risk.

The drawback of attending trade fairs in China is of course the expense. It costs $ 0.00 to meet a vendor on alibaba, but it will cost you 3-5 K to spend a week in China at the Canton Fair. Not surprisingly most cost-conscious small business owners choose alibaba. But in doing so they are assuming considerable risk. Giving an order to a vendor you met on alibaba but had never actually met in person is not unlike agreeing to marry someone you had exchanged emails with but had never actually had dinner with. It is not wise. Attending a trade fair in China, on the other hand, allows you to meet the people who are going to play a fundamental role in helping you build your business, your suppliers.

Meeting vendors in person allows you to discuss your product in depth with experts and most suppliers will provide you with valuable feedback. They may tell you ways you can improve your product or point out problems with your current design. You may have a good impression of some vendors and a poor impression of others but all of this will allow you to considerably reduce the risk of buying direct from China. Yes, it is an expensive trip. But over the long term if you find a vendor who you can work with, a vendor who can deliver good quality product to you as you grow your business, it may end up saving you a lot of money. Because you will be able to retain loyal customers who like your product and can depend on your delivery time and quality standards.

Here are the other posts in this series:

Part 4
Part 3
Part 2

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