When most buyers plan on identifying a new supplier, they are usually tempted to focus on the best price. However, concentrating only on low costs can hurt you in the long term. That’s because shaving a few cents off the price of a product is no help if the quality is below standard and the component or material does not arrive when you need it.

In this article, I’d like to share my experience of good practices in finding a manufacturer in China.

1. Decide what you want to produce – This is where a business plan comes into play? Here is a sample clothing line business plan template you can use. The first step is to decide on the type of items you want to manufacture.

This would give you an idea of the type of manufacturers you should look out for. If you want to manufacture denims for instance, you have to look out for a manufacturer that has the required equipment to produce denims.

2. Determine order quantity  Now that you know how much you can spare for production per piece, it’s time to figure out how many pieces you want. Manufacturers in China usually have minimum order quantity so you have to know if you would be able to afford the minimum quantity required.

3. Search suitable manufacturers – There are two ways to do this, you can either search online or offline. To search online, you can visit major B2B websites such as Alibaba, Global Sources, Made-in-China. You will find hundreds of suppliers who claim capable to produce your products.

To search offline, you can visit China, or choose to use a professional agent who would carry out a research on your behalf and link you with a suitable manufacturer based on needs. When selecting an agent, it is advisable to use someone that is very experienced, trusted and reliable. You can ask people that are already in the business to recommend someone that they trust.

4. Screen selected manufacturers – When you have chosen some manufacturers that you wish to work with, don’t just jump into making decisions, you should find out as much information as you can about them before you make your decision. Ask as many questions as you feel would be useful in helping you make your decision.

5. Get references and check them out – While this may seem simple enough, following this rule will help you eliminate about 90% of the potential trading partners you may find on sites like Alibaba or Global Sources. Ask the person whom you’re emailing with to provide you references of others in USA or Europe that they have done business with directly, who you can contact for a reference. It’s understandable if the supplier replies that they cannot tell you all of their clients’ names or brands they are making, but they should definitely be able to provide at least one or two references. When you check them out, set up a phone call instead of just a casual email. You’ll learn very quickly with whom you’re dealing. If the supplier cannot provide you with one genuine reference…a red flag.

6. Send a 3rd party to perform China supplier verification – These days there are a whole list of professional QC companies in China who can provide you a detailed report by sending someone firsthand to visit your potential supplier. You can usually get this done for around $200 and let me tell you…it could end up saving you a fortune!

7. Request product documentation – Ask your supplier if they can provide you some documents related to their quality control, or product safety standards, and see what they come back with. You may ask for things such as a “quality control checklist” for the product in question, or for testing reports showing that the materials being used in the product are safe and legal for your market. If the supplier avoids this request, or has no clue what you’re talking about, don’t go any further. A professional factory or sourcing company will be highly familiar and responsive to such requests.

8. Qualify the manufacturers them – Now, you should be able to qualify the manufacturers to choose the final one. You can choose based on quality level, supplier verification, capability, capacity and the communications, and what you find from the reference.

9. Go with your gut – You don’t need to be an expert in buying from China to know when you have a “bad feeling” about something. Feel strange that the supplier is asking you to make money transfers by Western Union? Is the name on their bank account different from the company name? Does the supplier seem to avoid your simple and direct questions? All of these are signs of a bad partner. Don’t rationalize an obvious lapse in professionalism because you feel you’re “locked-in” to one supplier.

10. Ask for samples – Next, you should ask for samples to be made and sent to you so that you can actually see what the products would look like. You would be able to look at the texture and quality of the fabric as well as the way the dresses are sewn.

11. Pay attention to quality – When you receive samples, what is your opinion of the quality? Does the item seem “just alright,” flimsy, cheap or have some other malfunction? If a supplier is willing to send out a sample that has quality issues, then you will definitely not get what you are expecting when you place an order. NEVER accept the excuse that “Oh, the sample is just like this, but the mass production will be better”. That is a joke in business world.

12. Negotiate terms and sign contract – When you are satisfied and convinced that you want to work with a particular manufacturer, you can now negotiate terms and when you have come to an agreement, you can sign a contract with them. A contract is very necessary so that you can protect yourself and so that the terms of the agreement can be strictly adhered to.


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