How can importers establish a quality standard, and then enforce it for China sourcing? It’s always not easy. Below are 4 proven ways I learn from my experience about how to handle your suppliers in China.
1. Insist on getting a “perfect” sample
Whenever possible, you should have a perfect sample (i.e. a prototype that is conform in all points to what you want to receive) in your hands before production is launched. The best practice is to get at least two samples, and send one back to the factory with your signature/stamp on it.
This is the most basic way to establish your quality standard. The difficulty will be in the enforcement.
In China, factories know that sending nice samples is important for them to get orders. These perfect samples (prepared by experimented technicians who take their time) are usually better that what can be made in mass production.
Suppliers simply assume that the buyers know it. And in many case, a buyer who has wired a 30% deposit and is in a hurry to ship usually has to accept this situation. Many factories count on it.
2. Define tolerances wherever applicable
Sometimes it is not realistic to expect a very precise result. For example, garments are generally made by hand, so there has to be a tolerance for measurements (for example: +/-1cm). In this case, the objective is the comfort of the garment.
Once you have approved some tolerances, put all your specifications on paper and get your supplier’s signature on them. You have already done half the work to establish and enforce a relevant quality standard.
3. Set a limit on the proportion of defects
A defect is an issue that you cannot accept on all products.
In the aeronautics industry, manufacturers have to guarantee near-defect-free products. But for consumer goods such as hard goods or apparel, such a high-quality standard is neither realistic nor necessary.
The quality control industry uses the same statistics (ANSI Z1.4), when it comes to checking consumer goods.
All inspectors, and virtually all factories and traders, are familiar with the contact of AQL (Acceptance Quality Limits). In clear, the AQL is the highest proportion of defects that you can accept. Most comment AQL is 2.5 (Major) / 4.0 (Minor).
4. A quality standard suffers no exception
Let’s say a supplier is late, you negotiate a delay with your customers, and before shipment you notice that quality is less than desirable. You still prefer delivering the products, rather than cancelling the order. So, you tell your supplier that he can ship out and that next time should be better.
The problem is, the “exceptional tolerance” will become the actual standard for the factory. Count on them to remember that you can accept less-than-perfect products.
Chinese manufacturers tend to have a “can’t do” attitude after an order production has started. Two of their favorite expressions are “almost good” (it’s off, but not by much, so you should accept it as is) and “no solutions” (there is nothing we can do about it now, no need to keep pressing this issue).
You should fight their natural inclination. Ask for re-work and re-inspections, even if it costs you 10 days. This type of efforts pay off handsomely in the long term, as long as the factory can reasonable achieve your quality standard — you will have clarified this if you follow the steps I listed above.
This should be a general rule, except when you are about to stop giving business to a supplier.