China Product Sourcing for Beginners

If you are new to sourcing from China, this read will be a good starting point.

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The beginning is always the hardest. You’re trying to work out a deal with an overseas supplier. A wrong move leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. You emerge wiser but wish you had started on the right note.

As a beginner seller, you need to be aware, informed and alert while establishing relationships with Chinese suppliers. Here are a few pointers to help you along the way.

Negotiating with Chinese factories

There is also a known factor that some Chinese suppliers use unethical ways to trap buyers. Usually, beginners are easy to dupe as they are overly permissive and don’t come prepared with the right questions. It is easy to get lured in by a suppliers’ promises.

Informed and prepared buyers are wary of this and evaluate suppliers’ declarations critically. They focus on finding a supplier that can serve them for the long term. Here’s a look at some mistakes to avoid as a newbie seller sourcing from Chinese suppliers.

Overstating your order volume

When it comes to setting expectations, it is better to be close to on target than to significantly overestimate product quantities. A Chinese factory receives several inquiries from foreign importers. Losing your business might ot affect them much. On the other hand, finding a new supplier is a hassle you don’t want after you’ve set up shop.

It is better to start with a trial order to get a feel for the factory’s quality and service. If you wish to proceed you can then discuss a realistic order quantity.

Driving a hard bargain

The trouble starts when you want to push the price down to a level that affects quality. The manufacturer may agree to your price but they’ll make adjustments and quality will suffer. That means substandard raw materials and other concessions that become apparent in product reviews.

Another risk is a delay in lead times. As you drove a hard bargain, you’re not a priority any more. The factory will place their focus on the importer that hasn’t given them a tough time at the negotiating table.

Unfortunately, there are sellers who are fine with retailing cheap ware– another reason why products from China have acquired a global reputation for questionable quality. It may not be a reflection of the production processes but is actually tied to driving the price down considerably. Ultimately, you get what you pay for.

Tell your supplier what your target market is and what is important to you, such as packaging and shipping requirements.

Explaining requirements in broad terms

While established factories may not have a problem fulfilling their customers inventory, they are taking a chance with every importer. If they’re convinced that business can flow both ways, they will regard you as a valued customer.

Speaking to the factory’s junior staff

Bring along a translator to talk to the decision-maker at the factory. You can get answers to your questions immediately rather than waiting. You will also get more reliable information as you’re talking directly to the manager and not going through a junior employee. As the translator has no incentive to make terms agreeable to you, there are fewer chances of getting misled.

Dropping your guard

This aspect of ‘guanxi’ may not be necessary for new sellers looking to do business in China. As long as you’re communicative and cooperative, you should have no problem keeping things flowing smoothly. The idea is to not get too close to the supplier during your initial meetings. But don’t be too distant with them, such as declining their offer to take you out to lunch or socialize after business hours. While on your China business trip; moderation, politeness and having your wits about you can help ensure a pleasant sourcing experience.

Flitting from one supplier to another

Contracts and IP rights protection

An NNN agreement

The sellers’ main concern is the potential use of their product information by their Chinese supplier to create a similar product and compete directly with them. A non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is concerned with protecting trade secrets by preventing its disclosure to the public, making it insufficient fora client-supplier partnership. Moreover, laws that apply in the West may not apply equally in China. A Western-style NDA is not enforceable in China, requiring you to instead consider a China-specific NNN agreement to protect your IP. Such an agreement offers three types of safeguards:

- Non-use, wherein the supplier cannot use your IP.

- Non-disclosure, wherein the supplier cannot make your IP public or share it with others.

- Non-circumvention, wherein the supplier cannot make your products and sell them at a lower price to capture your target market.

An NDA can work against if you’ve ended up partnering with an unscrupulous supplier. They will know that you’re unsure about protecting your IP in China, and attempt to steal it. Imagine a scenario where your supplier is selling your product to customers at a 40% lower price.

If your NDA states that all disputes will be heard in an American court, in accordance with U.S laws, you’re in trouble. This is because Chinese courts don’t enforce judgments issued by courts in the U.S or any western country for that matter. Ideally, you should try to settle any dispute amicably through arbitration.

Product Development Agreement (PDA)

This agreement is relevant when you’re collaborating with the supplier o design and develop your product. It is not necessary when your product is already developed and only needs to be mass produced at the factory.

The PDA sets forth terms and protections covering the product to be developed, the technology and associated costs that will be contributed by you and the supplier, which party will provide the specifications, and who will own the IP rights to your product, among others.

Manufacturing Agreement (MA)

The manufacturing agreement explains the nature and details of your relationship and cooperation as client and supplier. Each party knows what it’s supposed to do, and there’s no room for contract interpretation. The MA can include a number of points, such as payment terms, deliverables, quality control, inspection procedures, tooling and breach of contract.

Resolving disputes

Working with a reliable supplier protects you against infringements and unauthorized activities that can impact your business. However, there is no guarantee that your supplier will satisfy you consistently. When you have a problem with a consignment, arbitration is preferable to litigation.

Suppliers are generally open to sorting out disputes to avoid reputational damage. You can work out a solution that involves replacing your products, getting a complete or partial refund, or — if possible — fixing the products. A strong contract will put you in an advantageous position in an arbitration or even a lawsuit if you’ve suffered considerable damage after being supplied witha large volume of faulty products.

The contract should include the product specification, and the acceptable and unacceptable limits of the manufactured product, and evidence that you’ve paid the supplier (not the third-party). Your supplier should have assets that can be attached, and they must be located in the jurisdiction stated in the contract.

Improving business cash flow

A PO financing company pays your suppliers for the orders you’ve placed, funding up to 100% of your purchase costs at a rate of 1.6% to 6% per month, applicable every 30 days on utilized funds. The company may tailor your loan term to coincide with invoicing your order or receiving payment. It is a great option when you’re sourcing from a manufacturer and reselling without customizations or modifications.

Amazon sellers leverage proven cash flow strategies that allow them to scale up without constraints. You can reduce inventory, lead times, or MOQs. Negotiate payment terms that keep your cash flow positive, such as 20% down and the balance on shipment. On mass orders, consider a 30:40:30 split of down payment, payment after quality inspection, and the balance upon receiving shipment respectively.

Keep tabs on reviews

Once you place your first order and bring products to market, keep an eye out for customer reviews. Their response will tell you if your product quality is satisfactory or it can be better. When you know what aspects of the product can improve, you’ll be able to advise the manufacturer on the changes needed to bring quality up to 100%. If you’ve made your specifications clear and the factory has followed all quality control procedures, you should see very few or optimally no negative reviews.

Innovation should be at the back of your mind, especially if you’re competing in a tightly contested space. Brainstorm customizations and new features that can make the product more valuable to customers. You can retail your premium products at higher prices, and strengthen the business proposition with your supplier.

Of course, your supplier should also have the capabilities to make a better product. Partnering with a sourcing agent with boots on the ground in China can help you find an established factory that is right for your needs, or if so required, upgrade to a supplier when you’re ready to innovate.

We are a China Manufacturing and Sourcing Agent with offices in the US, China and Sweden. We get the right price, quality and lead time.