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As a new and small company, how do we choose from a myriad of suppliers who seem to make the same product?

Posted: 2011-07-05

Full Question

We are a relatively small company starting. We identified quite a few opportunities at the expo and upon further investigation back home it seems there is good market for it. The problem now is that we need to decide which of the myriad of suppliers, who seem to make the same product, we should use. The logical conclusion to me was, purchase samples and have them shipped to South Africa for quality testing and selection. Where the problem comes in is that since we are fairly small and starting out, the cost involved with couriering these individual products from China to South Africa seems to collectively cost an arm and a leg. Could you give any better suggestions or tips to help me out with this issue?


A plane ticket to China may be less than buying and shipping a bunch of samples to Africa. Plus if you come to China, then you can visit the suppliers at their factory and get a feel for who is a legit manufacturer and who is not.

You should also consider engaging the services of a third party like to conduct a quality audit on your suppliers before you place the order to ensure the factory has the experience and equipment needed to produce your desired product. All the potential suppliers will tell you "no problem, we are the factory and can easily make this product" when in reality they may be brokers or middlemen with very little experience. So doing an audit at the factory on your own, or with the help of a professional if you are not an engineer, is essential.

An audit only costs a few hundred US dollars and a trip to China is only a few thousand US dollars. If those figures are outside of your budget, then the harsh reality is that you probably shouldn't be buying direct from China. Going direct and avoiding your local importer or domestic agent and distributor does get you a good unit price, but going direct to China on your own also means you need to be ready to cover the costs of things like samples, multiple China trips, international shipping, auditing, inspections, due diligence and so on.

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