In many cases, small businesses make a factory selection based on completely irrelevant factors, such as your feeling to their website, the first impression to the company profile, or the promises made by a salesperson. However, I’d suggest you make decision per a solid checklist as described in the followings.
1: Main product
Browse Alibaba for a few minutes and you find many suppliers, often registered as manufacturers, offering products that are very different in nature. There are plenty of reliable manufacturers selling related products. That said, if you are looking specifically for watch straps, better to find a watch strap manufacturer rather than a watch manufacturer, selling straps as a side business.
2: Main export markets
A reliable Chinese manufacturer is not necessarily a manufacturer primarily exporting products to the United States and Europe. There are plenty of manufacturers focusing on markets in Asia, Africa and Middle East – or the domestic Chinese market. However, their quality level are often lower. That said, the exporting rate to developed market is a major benchmark to consider.
3: Product safety compliance
Buyers based in the United States and Europe need to ensure that their imported items are compliant with one or more product standards (such as CE, UL, FDA and LFGB). There are various types of product safety standards and regulations to keep track of.
4: Quality level
There are reliable and highly sophisticated manufacturers specializing the low market segment. Nothing wrong with that, but make sure the supplier is able and willing to manufacture products matching your quality requirements before you put money on the table.
5: Quality management system
Manufacturing is not a science. It’s not a matter of “if” there will be defective items, but how many. In order to minimize the number of defective units, the manufacturer must monitor quality before, during and after production.
Surprised that I didn’t put pricing as top priority? Let me explain. Pricing is important, but only when attached to a product that is compliant with applicable product safety standards, in your country. Thus, it’s a complete waste of time to negotiate prices with a manufacturer that’s unable, or unwilling, to comply with product safety standards in your country.
Manufacturers that don’t allow a quality inspection or factory audit always have something to hide. In order to weed out unreliable manufacturers early in the process, I suggest that you tell them about upcoming quality inspections and sample testing as soon as possible. This tactic tends to scare away scammers and low-end factories, while saving you a ton of time and money.
You shouldn’t need to wait for two weeks to get your emails replied. Manufacturers that lack interest in your order are not worth your time. Some Chinese suppliers also tend to avoid answering certain questions. If they deliberately avoid answering critical questions related to compliance, manufacturing capabilities and quality – dump them and go to the next supplier.