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How do I import baby products from China to Nigeria?

Posted: 2011-09-30

Full Question

How can I buy and ship baby products from China to Nigeria?

Answer

While the question is very broad, there are three underlying questions that jump out for me and I suspect if I had the opportunity to ask you to clarify, you are probably asking about the following.

  • How to find a reliable supplier?
  • What additional items should be of concern as the product is for babies?
  • What are the rules and regulations related to Nigeria customs clearance?

Let's start with the simple questions first.

What additional items should be of concern as the product is for babies?

Realize that you are the importer of record. So if your product has safety issues or does not comply with regulations, you will be the first person the lawyers go after. That means it is up to you to make sure your product is safe. Even if the supplier tells you it is, you should still verify on your own. Luckily the major testing labs stay up to date on regulations around the world and for a small fee will test a sample of your product to confirm if it meets your government's standards.

What are the rules and regulations related to Nigeria customs clearance?

Unfortunately, I don't have a list of third-party logistics providers (3PL) who have expertise in Nigeria, but let me share with you something far more valuable: how to find the right 3PL for your particular needs.

Just like picking suppliers in China, the problem isn't finding a 3PL, as there are so many to choose from, the problem is how to find the right one for you. Assuming you keep it easy and purchase "FOB China Port" from your supplier, then the role of your 3PL will be to orchestrate the movement of your goods from the China port to your destination point. In most cases this means organizing ocean freight or express air for the international leg of the journey, then customs clearance in your nation plus local trucking for domestic delivery. As such, you should be looking for a 3PL that has experience importing product from China into the specific domestic port you have in mind back home.

  • Pick up the phone book or do an Internet search with key words such as "3PL" or "Freight Forwarder" + "name of port." This will most likely generate a significant list.
  • The next step is to contact them and learn if they will be a good fit for you. I like 3PL's that have at least five years of experience importing product from China into the given port.
  • And as I have mentioned a few times before, it is worth saying again, if a service provider can't give you a list of client references they probably aren't worth doing business with.
  • Once you narrow it down to a handful of options based on initial talks and references, ask for an estimate on freight. What separates the great companies from the good ones will be the format and timing of their quote. If they take more than a few days to get back to you, it probably means that they don't have well-developed shipping channels and are trying to set something up just for this order. Try to avoid having your order serve as some 3PL's first attempt at doing business with China. Pay special attention to the format of their quote. It should be an actual form based on a template, not just a few sentences or prices sent via email. If they don't have a set format for estimates or quotes, that is a real bad sign about the level of their professionalism. The quote should be easy to understand and if you are unclear about a particular line item on the quote, then the 3PL should be able to explain to your satisfaction. Don't be afraid to ask questions! Better to ask in advance before getting hit with surprise charges later.
  • Shipping rates change on a day-to-day basis, and unless you are ready to ship immediately after receiving the quote, most likely the quote will be an estimate. So we like 3PLs that will hold their quote valid for a certain time or at least offer to re-quote closer to the actual ship date so that the buyer knows the exact costs in advance.
  • On countless occasions I have had shippers send me invoices after delivery that were much higher than the agreed estimate. So as you are confirming price, ask the powerful questions "Does this price include everything to get the product from X to Y, even taxes and duties?," "Is there anything that is not included?" and "Will you put in writing that the amount to be invoiced will not exceed the agreed estimate?"
  • It also helps to negotiate your terms with the shipper so that the goods are paid upon delivery, as opposed to paying them upfront. But actually, you don't have a lot of leverage because the shipper has physical control of your goods and could choose not to immediately release them if there are any confrontations about pricing at the last minute. So it is very important to find a professional company upfront and negotiate the terms and pricing well in advance.

How to find a reliable supplier?

The single most important factor in determining the success or failure of your sourcing program will be finding the right supplier. It sounds obvious, but making apples-to-apples comparisons of vendors at a national level can be daunting. The following is a behind-the-scenes look at a how one professional sourcing agency conducts this process. Supplier identification research should have a clear methodology for defining and measuring the desired attributes of the ideal supplier.

Step One "Defining": The "right supplier" is unique to each buyer, as the relative weight placed on price, quality, lead time and other attributes differs from project to project. Below is an excerpt from the attribute survey template that is used to put down on paper the attributes of an ideal supplier.

Step Two "Measuring": A typical supplier identification research project takes 30-45 working days, assuming multiple components and production methods need to be explored at a national level. The process is as follows:

  • Initial research generates a list of 50-100 potential suppliers using web directories like www.GlobalSources.com and industry/trade show directories.
    • Assume the vendor is a middleman until proven otherwise, not the other way around.
    • Avoid factories that refuse to list the name or location of the production facility. If they only show a Hong Kong, Taiwan or other non-PRC address, then they probably don't own the PRC factory and are a middleman of some sort.
    • Focus on those factories that can clearly show production experience with your particular product or production method.
    • Be aware that polished English skills do not reflect production skills. Often the most polished websites are set up by trading companies.
    • Look for clear information about operation size, equipment and staffing.
  • Review the 50-100 candidates' websites and brochures against the client's desired attribute list (but hold off on price until later) and narrow the field down to 15 to 20 candidates. At this point, "first contact" is initiated in the following ways:
    • Send an e-mail to ask for initial product-specific information (price, minimum order size, lead time).
    • Are samples available? If they don't have samples readily available, they probably don't deal in your product on a regular basis.
    • Granted the sales team will be the most polished in terms of English skills, but how is their understanding of your basic requests? If you ask for information on a red umbrella and get sent a sample of a blue shoe, you are going to have problems with communication down the road!
    • Confirm the actual production location and ask for ownership papers of the factory. Be explicit that the production location may be audited and that this location cannot be changed w/out approval of buyer. (You would be surprised at the number of middlemen who will take the buyer on a visit of a factory, only to change the location to a less expensive and poorer quality option after the buyer leaves)
  • The above research should narrow the field down to about five highly qualified candidates. At this stage, Quality Auditors are engaged for a few hundred US dollars to verify the factory has a sufficient quality control system in place to make the desired product. It is also wise to conduct due diligence to confirm the factory has a good reputation, no legal problems and is sound financially. In other words, verify they are not going to disappear with your deposit and will be around long enough to complete your order! These are essential yet often overlooked steps by those looking to cut corners during research. Unfortunately, due to the massive number of trading companies and aggressive China sales staff who will say almost anything to get your business, visiting the production line in form of an audit is the only way to confirm the real situation.
  • Based on the results of the factory visits, the next phase is sampling, trial order or even Purchase Order placement with the top vendor or two.

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