Being a western entrepreneur, it is difficult to find a decent supplier overseas. When you are sourcing products from China, it gets more difficult because the country is not only thousands of miles away, but many people are unfamiliar with English. Moreover, Chinese laws, business practices and culture are completely different from western one.
Importing products made in China is a difficult task but not impossible. There are myriad manufacturing facilities across China with capabilities to provide different quality standards. Finding the best supplier is essential to building a successful business not just for new ventures but even the established companies. Quality and reliability are the leading top priorities for those businesses that work with overseas suppliers.
Choosing a supplier in China is not as simple as online shopping. It is essential to have a solid understanding of the supply chain process as well as thorough research to support your decision of partnering with a supplier.
How to find a suitable Chinese supplier?
1. Use search engines and online directories
Use search engines and online Chinese supplier directories to build a list. It decreases the feeling of scarcity when you connect and negotiate with a potential manufacturer. At the start, you may feel that every manufacturer is your only hope. So, build a lengthy supplier list for direct communication.
Google is usually the primary source to find information. However, when you type Chinese suppliers the search bots will come up with millions of results. You are unaware if the sources are reliable or not. You will need to vet each one strictly.
Check Chinese wholesale websites. Read their return and delay policies and ensure they published their contact details on the site. Google search the specific supplier for scams. There are chances that someone had a bad experience and left a trace on the internet.
There are several B2B directories you can look for suppliers. It includes Alibaba, Global Sources, Made-In-China and more. Check reviews, ask questions, and get references but beware because most of members are trying to self-promote themselves. Look for established suppliers or those with 3 to 5 years of experience.
Alibaba offers verification services, which makes it easy to trust. On Google, you can come across information about the supplier’s participation in recent trade shows. Repeated participation in trade shows indicates that the supplier is committed to nurturing customer relationships.
Most online directories have a list of suppliers who provide mass-market products in high volume. This means, if you are looking for a unique product or bespoke product, then online directories must be narrowed down and scrutinized further.
2. Visit trade shows
If you want authentic and reliable suppliers from China, then visit Chinese trade shows. It takes quite a lot of money to set up canopies in trade shows which will be done only by authentic suppliers and dealers. You can talk in person with potential Chinese suppliers about their products, company values, quality control measures, and production capacities. Direct interaction allows you to see the potential suppliers' competence closely.
The two popular trade shows hosted in China are the Canton Fair and East China Fair. The Canton Fair is the largest business show in China and is held two times a year, it attracts massive participants and attendees demonstrating massive varieties of goods. East China Fair is a large regional trade fair, which is hosted annually.
Most of the deals are completed onsite and are popular for the highest turnover. You can talk directly with the suppliers at this fair and share contact details to continue the conversation later. These fairs have suppliers from every industry including electronics, consumer goods, clothing, cosmetics, medicines, automobiles, gifts, etc.
If you are unable to attend the Chinese trade fairs, you can still attend other fairs held around the world. However, the possibility of getting an appropriate Chinese factory in these fairs may be less, as majority of Chinese suppliers you meet at world-wide shows are trading companies.
3. Make a call
Scammers don’t offer real registration details on the internet to avoid getting tracked by enforcement authorities. They provide fake company names, addresses, and phone numbers or can push buyers to contact via mobile phone only. Remember, if the supplier has no landline, then it is a red flag.
Mobile phones can be purchased without limitations or restrictions. Therefore, scammers use mobile only rather than landline phones. See what a Chinese landline looks like. The first two digits are the country code and the next two or three are the area code. Use area code to check location. Call the supplier's landline and ask for its business license and registration number.
You can also get online with them on Skype or Zoom for decent communication. Through a webcam, you can inspect their workshops and warehouses, chat with them about the product, check their samples online, etc. The way they communicate will give you an idea about the supplier.
4. In-person factory visit
To verify suppliers, an in-person factory visit is the best solution. You can discuss product designs, quality standards, prices, production procedures, workshop facilities and machinery, warranty policies, expected delivery time, and more face-to-face questions with ease. The visits help to understand the process and, in the future, give you an idea of the issues manufacturers are dealing with. Factory reviews even ensure that the practices and procedures are up to required standards.
You cannot visit every potential supplier but narrow down the selection using the above steps before jumping on a flight to China for an in-person factory visit. It is crucial to communicate but never get obsessed with choosing a supplier that speaks perfect English. It is good to prioritize quality standards compliance and order quantities.
5. Negotiate and select the suppliers
You should always keep in mind that with a lower price you might not get a decent quality. Even if you have found the best supplier that delivers products based on the specifications, don't just stick to the price that they quote, but try your best to negotiate.
You may use the following ways to verify and choose the suitable suppliers.
Check business license - The Chinese Government issues a unique business registration number. If your supplier cannot provide a business license, then it is risky to work with them. If you are given the registration number, then contact the local Bureau of Industry Commerce website to verify.
Ask for referrals - It is important to verify that the supplier has the production capabilities, certificates, and technology skills necessary to meet your delivery time, quality, and quantity expectations. The best way is to ask previous customers about the potential supplier’s reliability and quality. Ask for references and contact them.
Ask for factory audits - Ask for factory audits before placing an order. If the supplier makes excuses or refuses, then it’s a red flag. A factory audit allows verifying the supplier’s production capabilities and quality compliance. You can have a factory audit conducted by third party quality control agencies.
6. Order Samples
Now that you have found the right supplier after all online searching, calls, and emails, it's time to pick the best price for the work they deliver. Before making payment, order a few samples. Once you receive your samples, you need to thoroughly inspect them to check their quality status.
The samples allow you to personally feel the quality, and you can check its craftsmanship to identify if it is what you desire. For the initial sample, you need to insist to transfer the money to the supplier’s business bank account [not to a personal bank account]. If they are unable to offer a business bank account, then it’s a red flag.
7. Outsource to a sourcing agency
Sourcing agencies play the role of a middleman between buyers and suppliers. If you are busy or new to the business, then it is a good solution to make use of a verified China sourcing agent. The agent has a specialized team that connects you to Chinese suppliers. The main services they offer include:
- Find and verify a suitable supplier in China.
- Utilize their good supplier network and offer competitive prices without quality depreciation.
- Perform factory audits, production follow-ups as well as China inspections
- Ensure that the production process is executed according to the contract.
- Handle complex shipping and delivery arrangements.
Although a reliable sourcing agent can do some heavy lifting, such as identifying and verifying suppliers. However, you still need direct involvement in the purchase transactions.
The best solution for buyers to find suppliers for importing Chinese products is to do their research before signing an agreement. It is crucial to be meticulous with the verification process to determine the credibility of the potential suppliers.