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What’s the most common difficulty companies encounter when importing from China?

We get contacted on a weekly basis by companies looking to source products from China. Often when they come to us they know what they want and have already sourced a supplier and negotiated prices. However before parting with their money, they (wisely) decide to do a little further investigation to try and check out the ‘factory’ they are about to deal with. At this point they contact us and ask us to check the deal out for them.

They provide us with details of the product(s) and the supplier who they believe t be the factory. This is usually where it all unravels. When you first make contact with sellers of goods in China almost invariably they will claim to be the factory, occasionally to have a special close relationship with the factory. Unfortunately in our experience in 95% of cases this is far from the truth. At best they are an agent dealing direct with the factory but often they are dealing with a wholesaler. This seems to be true right across the board whether you are looking to buy small manufactured items, raw building materials, or large single pieces of machinery. Don’t be fooled by thinking that because you are buying ‘large’ quantities you will be guaranteed to be dealing direct with the factory – you will not.

Does it matter if you deal via an agent? In most cases the answer is yes for the following reasons. Firstly if you deal direct you can often get the products customised to your requirements. Secondly delivery schedules are more likely to be met. Thirdly quality control is much easier to manage (an agent will typically send you samples from one factory only to place your subsequent order with another cheaper factory producing an inferior product – pocketing the difference in price). Fourthly many products need CE marking and you have a requirement to meet other regulatory standards such as FSC, Q-mark etc. but it impossible to be sure of the bonafides of this when dealing through an agent. Finally you are also likely to get a better price dealing direct with the factory.

Should you always go direct to the manufacturer. The answer is usually yes but if your quantity is small or a mixed consignment this may be impossible and you may have no choice but to use an agent. However even then it is important to choose someone reliable who you can trust.
So how can you tell if the person you’re dealing with is really a factory? In truth it’s very difficult indeed – in fact for a non native speaker it’s virtually impossible. A site visit to China is no security and we have heard and even witnessed customers taken by their contact to the ‘factory’ only to be shown round a factory which their contact has no connection with! The conversations (in mandarin of course) between the factory owners and the contact can be very amusing – meanwhile the customer is totally oblivious to the exchanges taking place (perhaps with a back hander to oil the process). We therefore spend a lot of time and care to check out these so called factories for our customers – it’s not always easy. The agents are very skilled and resourceful at hiding their true identity but we almost always find out in the end. Most customers who come to us end up not dealing with their original contact but, with our help, directly with the factory making the products they require. By doing this we can ensure they get the right product, at the right specification and quality, delivered on time and usually at a better price.

Our take home message – make sure you know who you are dealing with BEFORE you part with your companies hard earned cash.