Areas to Consider When Looking for a Sourcing Agent
China is becoming the major manufacturer of industrial products due to its low price and improved quality. But the diversity of products, language, culture and business practice differences pose problems for most foreign buyers and thus, having a good rapport with the suppliers is very important. This is where a China sourcing agent comes in.
Finding the right China sourcing agent is an important step to successfully sourcing products in China. Your relationship with them and their ability to deliver quality products in timely manner and at the right price will be major factors in the success of your business.
It’s important to take your time and ask the right questions. Only proceed when you’re confident that the agent can do what they say can, and that they’re a good fit for your business. Here a few areas to consider when looking for a China sourcing agent.
1. Office in China
Do they have a fully staffed office in China? How long has it been there and how long have their staff been employed there? It is important to work with an established company with a proven track record of successfully sourcing products in China.
2. Experience in China
For most people, China is a very different country from what they are used to. The culture and the mindset are very different from the west. When vetting a sourcing agent, ask them how long have they been operating in China? Good representation will come from an agent who has been operating successfully in China for many years. Established working practices will help ensure that you get good service. They will also have built up a network of reliable contacts – which is very important part of life and business in China.
Can they provide genuine references from other businesses who have used their service? If they can provide references, you should always take the time to call to them. Ask how long they have been in business, how long they have been using the agent, what products they have sourced, what is the quality like, and can they recommend the agent. Take time to check out their website also.
Ask the agent what documentation they can provide as part of the sourcing and shipping process. They should be conversant in the process and give you confidence that they know what they are talking about – based on the language that they use. Typical documents include the Bill of Lading, Certificate of Origin, packing list and commercial invoice.
5. Quality Issues
Ask what their procedure is for dealing with any quality issues that may arise. Having dealt with Chinese manufacturers for over 15 years, in general, we have been very impressed with their quality. It’s important however that the agent makes it clear to the manufacturer that they will not accept substandard levels of quality.
6. License to Trade
In China, the law is very strict on what a business can and cannot do. All businesses must have a license to trade. That license enables the business to conduct one specific type of operation. They cannot do other things which don’t match the description of their license. Ask to see the agent’s license before you start doing business with them.
7. Good English
As English is the international language of business, regardless of which Western country you come from, your primary point of contact at the agency should have a good command of spoken English. They should also have good written English as many of your communications will be in email. The same rule applies to the staff in the agent’s Chinese office. They too should have good verbal and written English as you may have to speak to them directly on occasions.
8. Process of organizing and sourcing
You have to get an insight into the sourcing strategy of the agency. A good agency is one that presents the certification requirements and product specifications of the client at the very beginning. This is proof that the agency is an incorruptible friend of the client.
Include certification requirements and product specification confirmation; Research of price, ordering a sample and choosing suppliers who qualify; First stage of negotiation of prices; Supplier selection after audition; Agreement of sales; Quality inspection; Shipping agreement, etc.
9. Field of expertise
China sourcing varies depending on the products you are buying. While some agents are good at sourcing one type of product, they might be not so good at sourcing another type of product. You have to know whether the sourcing agency you are hiring has prior experience in procuring products you want to deal with.
You can ask your agency to provide you with a record of similar orders they have handled before in the same industry. You should also ask for buyer references, so that you can get the information directly from the buyers. You might not come across a procurement agency which deals with only a specific product, but you might ask for buyer reference in the same industry. This helps in assessing if the agency is efficient or not.
The procurement agency must have knowledge about the quality standard, certification needs and other aspects acceptable in the Western economy. Therefore, it is better if the sourcing agency has offices close the manufacturing towns, so their quality staff can easily visit the factories and do online and pre-shipment inspections frequently.