How to visit factories in China successfully
By Kevin Lee
When you decide to purchase from China, a face-to-face strategy might be just what you are looking for to increase your chances of success. It will strongly help you deal with Chinese factories more efficiently. But it’s never easy to fly to another country and inspect some people and companies that you never know before. You need to work out everything before an action.
Today we will further look into the preparations that you need to undertake before meeting your potential supplies. And we will also discuss in depth the dress code, greetings, questions you should ask, factory touring and all things you may need to know for a successful trip.
Before that, let’s spend one minute to give out why you should visit your suppliers in the first place:
- First of all, you can reduce communication time with suppliers (e.g. from 4 months to 10 days). Ears and eyes are always better than words;
- You will be able to assess suppliers and how suitable they are for you. You can observe how management communicates between themselves and get introduced to the boss (This can helps you solve little problems regarding your orders in the future);
- You will have a chance to tour the manufacturing facilities, confirm factories capacity and advancements (on occasion the information that a supplier is providing you over an email might not be exactly correct, especially in regards to how much and how fast they can produce, this comes from 10 years of personal experience). Get ideas for new products;
- Your visit will show the supplier that you want to be in control and have a hand on the pulse. This will lead to better working productivity and quality on your orders;
- Suppliers will perceive your determination and sincerity about placing the orders and this, in turn, improve long-term communication between you and supplier.
It’s undoubted that a successful trip can bring so much advantageous for your business. But in order to get there, a comprehensive plan will have to be done before. Now let’s look forward what we should prepare at first.
1.0 Preparation before visiting potential suppliers in China
1.1 Arranging for a factory visit
After you pondered upon the reasons and made the decision to visit suppliers, the planning stage comes in. First and foremost make sure on your visit that you arrange for meetings with more than one supplier. Depending on your products and which provinces in China they are produced, in a ten-day period you can visit at least ten potential suppliers.
Hint: if you produce one specific product “shoes” for example, you can double the number of suppliers you visit. Most of the shoes are produced in the city of Wenzhou in China. Factories are all located in the industrial zones not far from one another, meaning you will be able to visit at least two factories in one day.
After you decided on the suppliers that you would like to include into your China tour, you need to contact them and confirm that meeting and touring their facilities is possible.
Hint: if your supplier comes up with different reasons why you shouldn’t come and see the management, production facilities, etc. or he/she plain simple refuses your visit, I suggest to directly “drop” that supplier from your list.
Planning your day-by-day visits is the next step. You can’t arrange everything on the spot, as in which factory will you visit today. Look up in which provinces cities, industrial zones your potential suppliers are located and try to make them into clusters. Ask for the addresses to be provided so you can map them out on Google Maps and see the distances.
Hint: when giving an address, factories, agents and sourcing companies usually provide you with an office address and not the manufacturing facility. So triple check on that point with them. Also, Google Maps are not very accurate in China due to some restrictions, so you can try and use Baidu Maps. Baidu is a Chinese search engine. Ask your potential supplier to send you the address in Chinese characters and copy and paste it in the search box in this link, you might not be able to read Chinese, but at least you can compare with English Google Maps and see the location more precisely.
1.2 How to get to China
Before you go to China, you need to arrange for a visa unless you qualify under certain circumstances that you can find on Chinese Visa Application Service Website.
Most probably you will require a visa. Popular choice includes a Tourist visa that is easy to get and will not require your supplier’s assistance. Please check the website mentioned above for more information. Also, make sure to call the Chinese Embassy/Consulate in your country to confirm the requirements; they might differ slightly from country to country.
Hint: travelling within China is very easy whether by flight, high-speed train (350km/h) or bus. There are websites that can help you purchase tickets for different modes of transportation in advance. I would suggest using Travel China Guide and Ctrip.
1.3 Dress code when meeting your potential suppliers
You need to understand that China grew at an astounding rate, and small rural factories turned into major top brands suppliers around the globe. The owners of those factories might have all the money in the world by now, but that doesn’t make them refined and doesn’t place them on top of society ladder.
What I am trying to say here is dress code doesn’t really exist when you are visiting a Chinese factory, but maybe abstain from wearing shorts. I would suggest wearing a pair of jeans. Short and long sleeved shirt will be fine or even a subtle t-shirt. Please keep in mind that this is specifically for visiting a manufacturing facility. If you are attending a shareholders meeting in China that’s a different story, there, a more formal suit will be suitable.
2.0 On the way to the supplier. How & What to do?
2.1 Getting to your supplier’s factory/office
A very common practice in China is to be picked up by your supplier. Usually, they come to your hotel by car and drive you to the factory. This should all be discussed with your potential suppliers before you come to China. Do keep in mind that both factories and offices are not located in the city, but usually on the outskirts and it might take 1.5-2 hours drive to get there due to the size of the cities and traffic.
Hint: if you are visiting several suppliers in the same area, you can arrange for the current supplier you are visiting to communicate with the next one on the list. That way it will be easier for them to arrange where they can meet and sort of “pass you along” from one supplier’s car to another.
2.2 What to do on the way to the factory
Make sure to use this precious time wisely. This is a perfect opportunity for you to find out who are you dealing with. Do not be pushy, try to be genuine and show interest in learning as much as possible about this potential supplier. Here is the basic list of questions that you should consider. Remember, though, every supplier is different, and conversation can lead you anywhere, so adjust, adapt and continue, “probing”:
- How old is the factory, how many workers do you have, how big are the manufacturing facilities, how many production lines do you have;
- Who are the owners, which products did they start with;
- Where in the world are your clients located, how long have you been working with them, any well know brands;
- What are your annual sales (they usually list in on Alibaba), how many sales people do you have;
- What are your plans, any products you are looking to produce;
- Do you have in-house Quality Assurance team?
3.0 Communication & Culture. Be prepared.
3.1 Meet and Greet
Usually, the manager and driver are the ones who pick you up from the hotel (unless the factory is really small then you might get picked up by the boss). It doesn’t matter if you are meeting the manager or the boss the greeting is usually standard. Say hello, shake hands, exchange pleasantries and business cards. One trick you need to remember is when you are exchanging the name cards make sure to hold it with two hands when you “offer” it. Later on, staff will be asking you to sit down, and have some tea and water; you can refuse if you want to, there is nothing wrong with that.
Hint: in China, even during the summer local people prefer to drink warm or even hot water. So make sure to ask specifically for cold water, unless of course you don’t mind the hot one.
3.2 Factory Tour
The good thing is you already know what to expect because you asked a lot of questions in the car. Touring the factory is an important component of visiting a supplier. You can see what machinery is used to produce the products, you can see the process from start to finish (can give you ideas of how to reduce costs), how efficient the factory is. Also, every factory tour includes a showroom visit. There you can see all the products that this factory ever produced. Another very important point is that you can see which brands they have produced in the past. This will help your final decision about this supplier.
Hint: sometimes manufacturers do not mention certain brands to you if they know that this brand might be your direct competitor.
Here comes the fun part I suppose. In China, it is not only very common but somewhat necessary to take your current or potential clients who are visiting the factory for lunch, dinner or even karaoke. First please be prepared that it will be a huge feast. Your suppliers will ask you about your food preferences and if you have some, do not hesitate to mention them. It is normal to also have a beer or two during the lunchtime feast. Though if you do not want any, you can always refuse in a polite form.
Hint: better come up with a good excuse. Otherwise, people around the table will push you for some time.
Chinese people appreciate when you know things about their culture, so I suggest to read up some things regarding history and culture and if you have it in you learn how to use chopsticks.
The time frame for lunch and dinner are usually different. Lunch is shorter because most of the time people arrange to meet more suppliers in the afternoon. Dinners can last for many hours. Harder liquor will be offered as well, specifically ?? (baijiu), meaning white wine. It usually has 40%-60% alcohol by volume, so be careful! You think it is time to go back to your hotel? You are wrong; it is time to go to KTV (karaoke) and sing some songs, and drink a bit more. Again, if you do drink, I implore you to be careful. The entertainment stage makes a bond between customer and supplier a lot stronger.
At the end of the day, visiting your potential suppliers can be as productive as you want it to be. One thing to remember is how much value a personal, face-to-face communication adds to a business relationship. There will be more trust, transparency and leniency that can lead to a very fruitful long-term cooperation.
I hope this information gave you insights on why you should visit your suppliers as well as hints and tricks on how to make the trip successful. If it did, please help me share this article and your opinion on social medias. We are trying to reach as many people as possible, so everyone can have a chance to be an entrepreneur.
Kevin Lee is the co-founder of Asianconn, a China-based souricng agency. He writes about global sourcing trends and advise for purchasers and importers on asianconn.com. Kevin has been living full time in Shanghai, China, since 2003. For further questions, you can contact him at email@example.com.
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