How to Find a Reliable China Supplier

2021-10-14

Qualifying Chinese suppliers is hard work and a huge investment of time. Are you up to the task or would you rather have someone with boots-on-the-ground assess your supplier and handle all aspects of your order? Here's a look at the various routes to find suppliers, and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

How do I find suppliers in China? This is a common question among importers doing business in China for the first time. It is also on the minds of experienced sellers seeking China new product manufacturers and factories with advanced capabilities. Take a look at the options to understand how best you can identify the perfect manufacturing partner for your needs.

Your industry network

Think a business contact, friend or relative that sources from China can help make initial introductions with Chinese goods suppliers? That's great because it can save you the time you've to spend on finding a supplier on your own. At the same time, it would be unwise to rely entirely on your contact's recommendations and enter into a deal with the China business.

Your industry and social networks can surely connect you to their supplier or a factory they know but don't have a business relationship. But you'll still need to do your due diligence and qualify the supplier before you pay for the moulds and tooling. After all, it is you who will be impacted if something goes off the expected course.

After your contact shares the details of a supplier they trust, prepare a list of all the questions to determine if they're a good fit for your business. Inquiries you can make include:

  • How many overseas customers do you have?

  • Do you have long-term customers?

  • Can the supplier help you develop new products or product styles?

  • How does the supplier ensure smooth ongoing relationship with customers?

You will still need to conduct a factory audit to review whether the supplier has the skills to mass produce your product. If the factory audit checks out, then the supplier should have no problem sharing their business license, foreign trade registration certificate, bank account certificate, customs registration certificate, ISO 9001 certificate, and so on.

After you're satisfied with the supplier and place your first order, you will need to monitor your order. Chinese suppliers pay more attention to orders from customers who maintain strict oversight. This is an important point to note for new sellers in the west who only have visibility into their order through online communications with their supplier. Most Chinese factories work on thin margins and accept many orders to boost their bottom line. They tend to prioritise large orders and established sellers. So, unless you follow-up with your supplier frequently, there's a small possibility that they might move a large order to the front and push back your smaller order. While the factory will meet your delivery deadline, you don't want to be seen as an unimportant customer.

Supplier directories

The top China supplier directories such as Alibaba, Global Sources, Made in China, DHGate.com and HKTDC are often the first option of importers. But how do you go about finding the right supplier? Here are some tips:

  • Know the specifics of your product. Are you designing a new product or building on/reimagining an existing product? If you have a concept that you wish to turn into a product, you may want to work with a factory with the capabilities to build new or innovative products in your category.

  • Identify the factory characteristics. What does your ideal factory look like in terms of skills, tools, capacity and other attributes?

  • In China, different industries manufacture products in various provinces. Determine the province and cities that specialise in your product category.

  • Use the right key phrases to search for Chinese suppliers online. Use key phrases specific to your product to find relevant suppliers quickly. For example, if you're looking for a specific type of serving tray, a search for 'five tier plastic serving tray', which includes the key product features you need will bring up relevant searches rather than 'serving trays'.

  • Assess product photos from the supplier. Are they grainy? Are they an accurate representation of the product? Go through the product and brand details on the product page. See if the supplier has uploaded certificates that sellers seek. For a serving tray, an LFGB test for safety of products that make direct contact with food or body, is a relevant certificate to check for.

Disadvantages

Ask any importer about the most challenging part of sourcing from China, and they will tell you it is the difficulty in finding the right suppliers in the country. Although a simple answer to 'how do I find suppliers in China' is to look up a Chinese goods suppliers directory, qualifying suppliers is often a long process. Running a check on suppliers is crucial to verify they are who they claim to be. A few suppliers may actually be trading companies that act as an intermediary. While this may work out if you're interested in buying wholesale commodities, they're less suitable when you need custom manufacturing.

If you don't qualify suppliers, there is a risk of partnering with a so-called manufacturer that sub-contracts to a factory. Such unscrupulous third-parties work in their own interests. Besides making a profit by selling to you at a higher price, they may even charge a commission from the factory that makes your product. In a worst-case scenario, you may be saddled with inferior quality products as the intermediary sub-contracted to a factory that doesn't possess experience in your product category.

Have a problem with the order? Don't count on a speedy resolution. For example, on Alibaba, you can resolve a dispute directly with the supplier. If the supplier isn't willing to accept your terms, Alibaba's dispute resolution team steps in three working days after your dispute remains unresolved for 30 days after opening. So, you'll have to wait 30 days before someone from Alibaba takes up your case.

Trade Shows

Trade shows are a great opportunity to meet China new product manufacturers and wholesale suppliers. The events are intended for importers from around the world to build contacts and do business in China. Visiting a trade show requires advance planning from your side, from getting your invitation letter from the event organizers and applying for a visa to booking flights and hotels. With these things sorted, you can focus on making the most of the trade shows where you aim to meet that supplier who will get your business off the ground!

Pros

  • Big trade shows translate to more choices. At a single large trade fair, such as the Canton Fair, you can meet a number of suppliers and compare them to make informed decisions.

  • If you're an experienced importer and scouting new suppliers, you're likely to find them at a popular trade show that attracts huge attendance.

  • You can cover many suppliers and factory visits on a single trip provided you plan reasonably priced accommodation or make other stay arrangements in the country.  

  • You get to experience Chinese food, hospitality and ethnic diversity.

A couple of things to keep in mind when you visit trade shows to discover Chinese suppliers:

  • The costs: Other than the cost of visiting and staying in China, account for the costs of hiring a translator at the fair and during your factory visit, dinners/lunches with your supplier, visiting a few quality inspection companies, and checking out labs (to meet the safety, health or environmental standards of your market). Travelling within a province or between various provinces will also add to the cost.

  • The cultural differences: For an experienced Chinese supplier, meeting and doing business with western importers is second nature. New product manufacturers may be less adept and getting across your expectations to them can be a bit of a struggle. Depending on your awareness of Chinese business culture, the initial introduction and communications may not go as smoothly as you were hoping.

  • Not making the right impression: Continuing from the above point, building a business relationship based on mutual understanding can be challenging if you're unable to establish a friendship with Chinese suppliers. In China, frequent social interactions with business contacts determine how you're viewed by business partners, while contractual obligations matter less. In this regard, you're at a disadvantage if you can't build camaraderie with your suppliers.

China's biggest trade fairs

The Canton Fair (China Import and Export Fair)

The Canton Fair is the oldest and largest trade fair in China, held twice a year in Guangzhou. Over 60,000 suppliers and 180,000 buyers attend the fair, which lasts about 10-15 days and occurs over three phases to cover various product categories, from electronics, household appliances, chemical products, and hardware to goods, gifts, home decorations, textiles, health products, medical devices, shoes and office supplies.

Get your invitation letter and badge from the Canton fair website, apply for a business or tourist visa, and plan your itinerary. If you know someone who has visited the trade fair, ask them for tips on cheap nearby hotels, what to expect, whether or not you need an interpreter, how Chinese suppliers engage with western buyers, and so on. Without knowing what to expect, you may miss out on asking important questions to prospective suppliers.

Very few suppliers will give you a free sample at their trade booth. But they're open to negotiating the price and MOQs. The list of attendees is mentioned on the fair website, so you can learn more about them and figure out whether it's worth meeting their representatives in-person at the fair.

The Canton Fair is huge and depending on how many established suppliers or China new product manufacturers you plan to meet, you can expect to walk quite a bit. Wear comfortable shoes, stay hydrated and put your best foot forward!

The Yiwu Commodities Fair

Yiwu Commodities Fair is the third-largest commodities trade fair in China. It is held annually at the Yiwu International Expo Center in Zhejiang. The export-oriented fair is a good place to find Chinese wholesale suppliers of:

  • Toys

  • Consumer electronics

  • Gifts and handcrafts

  • Sporting goods and recreation

  • Jewellery and accessories

  • Office supplies

  • Gifts and handicrafts

  • Apparel and clothing

  • Fashion and accessories

  • Hardware

  • Stationery

The fair attracts nearly 50,000 global merchants. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the fair held online trade matchmaking meetings targeting buyers in the United Kingdom, Chile and Malaysia, among other countries. Overseas traders had the opportunity to meet exhibitors online or off-site.

East China Import and Export Commodity Fair (East China Fair)

The East China Fair (ECF) began in 1991 and is held annually in Shanghai. It is among the largest international economic and trade shows in China, with thousands of visitors, a vast variety of exhibits, and the highest transaction volumes. Several brands worldwide attend ECF to meet over 4,000 exhibitors representing upstream and downstream industries.

Work with a sourcing agent to find your ideal Chinese suppliers

Over the years, enterprising Chinese businesspersons with supply chain experience have turned sourcing agents for importers. Agents make the sourcing journey smooth for importers by providing a number of services. They include helping your find the right supplier, manufacturing control, quality inspection, order monitoring and deliveries.

Your sourcing agent works for you and, as a fee, charges a percentage of the total order value you place with your supplier. Amazon sellers and overseas importers have come to rely on sourcing agents, for a number of reasons encapsulated below:

To save time: You can expect to invest considerable time and effort to find your ideal factory. With a sourcing agent, you save time to devote to other business activities. A sourcing agent has working relationships with suppliers in a province with clusters of factories making your product. An experienced UK sourcing agent plays matchmaker and connects you to a manufacturer with the capabilities and good governance practices you seek in less than half the time you might spend sourcing on your own.

To make a smart choice: Ordering products wholesale off the internet can be risky even if the manufacturer has the capability to make them to your specifications. On the other hand, qualifying suppliers is a multi-step process. You should know what to check for, and the best way is to meet the supplier in person and visit their factory. A sourcing agent sends RFIs, checks whether suppliers have the necessary certifications and permits, performs factory audits, and any other assessments you specify.

To keep a grip on quality: Chinese suppliers have narrow profit margins. They accept several orders to remain profitable, and pay special attention to large orders and long-term customers. Sometimes, it translates to less focus on smaller orders or new customers. A sourcing agent conducts checks at various stages of production, from verifying raw materials and adherence to your product specifications, to conducting random batch checks and confirming product quantity prior to shipping.

To keep tabs on your order: There is a possibility that your manufacturer may prioritize large orders and take it easy when it comes to small orders that don't make a difference to their bottom line. This creates the risk of not meeting delivery timelines. In a different situation, the factory may suffer a downtime from a labour dispute, government order or shutdown of raw materials or components factories. Despite deliveries being affected, Chinese suppliers may not relay the news to you quickly. With a sourcing agent, you know what's happening, how your order may be affected, and how best to address the situation.

To avoid getting held up at customs: The purpose of customs inspections is to verify whether the nature, origin, condition, quantity and value of goods moving out of the country are consistent with the information filled in the declaration form. Inspectors randomly select shipments for a manual inspection, checking the packaging, transportation marks, and other visible marks. If something doesn't check out, they may remove the packaging to inspect the goods. Sourcing agents not only provide a final goods inspection but also take care of customs clearance, ensuring that your shipment isn't derailed.

Knowing that a trusted agent with boots-on-the-ground is staying in touch with your supplier on your behalf also offers you peace of mind. Your agent will keep you updated and you can communicate any inquiries you have with your agent, who can then transmit it to your supplier. This can go a long way in preventing a lack of understanding due to the language barrier and provide the visibility needed to correctly confirm anything related to your order.

How do I find suppliers in China? Talk to Maple Sourcing today

Assessing the legitimacy, financial records and technical capabilities of Chinese suppliers can take up much of your time. Attending trade shows in China requires advance planning and budgeting. While this is both an excellent and exciting way to meet many new and established Chinese goods suppliers, it isn't feasible for everyone. Global events that restrict international travel can lead to event cancellations. Moreover, you'll need to follow-up with a factory audit or hire an agent, and invest time in building a relationship with your supplier to increase chances of a successful partnership. Even if you're up to the challenge, language and cultural differences can come in the way.

China supplier directories rate, review and audit suppliers. But they don't get it right all the time, and it generally takes a long time to resolve quality disputes. You don't face these difficulties when you go through a China sourcing agent like Maple Sourcing. Our experience and strong knowledge of various industries enables us connect you to the right Chinese suppliers. We're a full-service sourcing company assisting you across the full sourcing lifecycle - talk to us today and understand how we can make a difference to your business. 

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