Meeting Chinese Suppliers & “Factory Visits”- My Experiences

In this article, I’m going to detail some of my personal experiences meeting Chinese Suppliers. The term “Factory Visit” in China I have found is a broad sweeping term to refer to not only the actual visiting of the factory, but the meals, events, and everything else that goes with it. This article isn’t intended to give you much of a guide to quality control inspects for factories- there’s lots of info regarding that on the web and in short, you’re probably better off to pay a third party company to do it.

Every good relationship in China is forged with the so called “Factory Visit”. It’s a great opportunity to see the premises of the company you’re thinking of purchasing from but it’s an even better opportunity to forge a relationship with your company.

It’s a 1-2 day affair
A typical factory visit isn’t popping in for an hour or two, inspecting the premises, and then going back to your room. No, it’s more like, arrive into your Supplier’s city, have him pick you up, go for a quick tour of the factory, go out for lunch, and then “go back to the hotel for some rest”.  Three or four hours later they’ll pick you up, go for a big dinner, and then go for a show of some sort. The next day, they’ll pick you up, go for some more lunch, and drop you off at the airport. It can be a very draining one or two days, especially if you’re communicating with a Supplier who has very limited English skills during this time.

One of my Supplier's factories in Ningbo

Visiting the Factory
Unless you’re quite knowledgeable about the industrial processes regarding your product, it’s often difficult to judge the standards of your supplier’s factory let alone make recommendations to them. That’s why it’s often better to employ a third party quality assurance company (3PQ) if you can. However, you may still be able to recognize some critical flaws in the products which you can have corrected before they arrive in your home port. And regardless, it’s a chance to see just what products they manufacture, who they manufacture them for, and how much they manufacture (hint: you may be surprised how small they are.

Yes the stereotypes are true. You may be required to go for Karaoke!

Don’t let them book your hotel!
Unless you’ve worked with a Supplier for a very long time, be tentative about allowing them to book a hotel for you if they offer. Perceptions of ‘a good hotel’ vary widely from the West to China and there is nothing worse than being stuck in a dirty hotel in the middle of nowhere where no one speaks a word of English. Book your own hotel.

The Chinese are Great Hosts
The Chinese share that general great Asian quality of being very welcoming hosts. They will go out of their way to show you a fantastic time (at least what constitutes a fantastic time in their eyes). They’re normally enthusiastic about showing you their company and city, much different than what we’re accustomed to in the West of picking Aunt Selma from Toronto up at the airport.

When I was younger and visiting factories in China while staying at hostels, I used to joke with other budget-conscious travelers who were touring the country just for fun ‘If you want to see the real China and for very cheap, just wear a dress-shirt and tie and pretend like you’re interested in Widgets. You’ll get your hotel, transportation, meal, and entertainment all for free!”


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