Are you importing goods from China? Trading with Chinese manufacturing or trading company can be tricky and sometimes, quite challenging. This is especially true for importers with small and medium sized businesses. For some, it can even turn into a daunting and a draining drill to deal with the suppliers in China.
A Difference Between a Manufacturing and a Trading Company
A manufacturing company typically owns a factory where their specialized workers design and manufacture their own products for customers. This is why, establishing a manufacturing company usually requires large capital investment to start with.
On the other hand, a trading company does not own a factory themselves. Instead, they have relationship with one or more manufacturers, and work more like an agent for those manufacturing companies.
Do You Prefer Importing Directly from a Manufacturer or Through a Trading Company?
Most importers do not care if they work with a manufacturer or a trading company, as long as the price and quality meet their expectations. But there are still many importers who want to work directly with a manufacturer when importing goods from China. Mainly because they think the manufacturers can offer the best prices, which can be true, but not in every case.
Almost every other company on buying platforms, such as Alibaba, Made in China or Global Sources, claim themselves as manufacturer. In reality, they are the trading companies listed as manufacturers. So how can you tell if they are a manufacturing company, or a trading company under the skin of a manufacturer?
There are several ways to make a good guess about the company you are dealing with. Off course, not all methods apply in every scenario, but most of them do work in most cases.
In this article we will discusses the tactics that you can use to distinguish between a manufacturing and a trading company.
So How to Tell if the Supplier is a Manufacturing or a Trading Company?
The only method that works much better than any other tactic is visiting the company personally. (We will cover this a little later in this article.) But this is the privilege that many small business owners find difficult to enjoy. Also, the coronavirus pandemic situation is still unclear globally and traveling to China also has its own difficulties during pandemic. Therefore, investigating the supplier remotely need some deliberations and efforts.
Some of the tactics work better than others, but you can still use them to make your analysis better.
1. Be straight and just ask them the simple question
There is no harm in asking them if they are a manufacturer or a trading company. Most of the times, you will hear that they are manufacturer, as most of them tell this anyways. But still there are some companies, who would tell you the truth that they are in fact a trading company. You may like to respect them for their honesty, and thank them for not wasting your and their own time.
If they tell you that they are a manufacturing company, then keep going with your tactics.
2. Pay attention to the lead time and the quality of their response
Pay attention to the conversation with the company’s sales representative. Analyze their communication. The way they communicate with you, can give you some clues about them.
The manufacturing company’s sales representative usually have much better knowledge of the product and the manufacturing processes. On the other hand, the trading company’s sales representative could be specialized in sales, but depends on the actual manufacturer for some technical and low level details. That is why the sales person of a manufacturing company usually responds quickly and with more details than that of a trading company. The trading company may also respond to you quickly, but without enough details that you are looking for. For the detailed reply, they may take time.
The above mentioned analysis based on quick responses may not work in some cases. For example: if you are looking for a generalized or a hot selling product, and you stumble upon a trading company by chance. The sales representative of the trading company may have years of experience in dealing with customers like you. He or she could have heard most of the questions you may have to ask, and therefore could be well prepared with the answers in advance. To push them a little, you can ask more questions of the technical nature unique to their product or your query. If they are a trading company, then it may take some extra time for them to find out the required details for you. This is because they may have to contact the manufacturer for the answers.
On the other hand, there are also chances that the person at the sales desk is new at this manufacturing company or at this role. He or she may not have the complete information readily available that you are looking for. So you may have to get back and forth with them to get enough information about the product.
Therefore, it is recommended not to rely too much on this method.
3. Judge them by the size of their product catalog
A manufacturing company is usually specialized in one or only several kinds of products. If there are lots of different kinds of products in the company’s catalog, then it is more likely to be a trading company.
A typical trading company starts with one or two products at the beginning. As they build their relationships with other manufacturers with time, they keep adding products to their own catalog. Therefore, it is a good idea to check how long they have been in the business. If they are in business for several years, and have many products in their catalog, then chances are good that they are a trading company.
As several other methods, this method may also not give you the clearer picture about the company’s business nature. A trading company that is relatively new, and having only a few products can be mistaken as a manufacturing company. On the other hand, a trading company active in business for many years, yet might stay content with the few products they are dealing in.
4. Check their minimum order quantity (MOQ)
Most manufacturing companies have higher MOQs than a trading company. For example, a manufacturer can have an MOQ of, say, 20,000 pieces of electrical bulbs. But, a trading company may be able to provide you 5000 pieces of the same bulb. You may ask them to sell lower quantities to see if they can. Compare the MOQs of your required product from different suppliers. Most of the manufacturers usually have similar MOQs for a product on most buying platforms.
5. Ask for their ISO 9001:2015 Certification
Usually, if a company holds the ISO 9001 certification, then chances are good that they are a manufacturing company. Still, not every manufacturer holds the ISO 9001 certification, and not any company holding this certification is a manufacturer. Many companies find ISO 9001 certification requirements difficult to fulfill, and therefore and not able to obtain this certification. On the other hand, some trading companies obtain this certification as well. In this case, they usually have solid relationship with manufacturing companies. Therefore, they are usually equally competitive as any other manufacturer, even on price.
However, be aware that it is relatively easy to fake the ISO 9001 certificate because they know that you may require some time and efforts to verify the certificate. Check the following databases to verify the certificate:
- Certification and Accreditation Administration of the People’s Republic of China (CNCA) database
- China National Accreditation Service for Conformity Assessment (CNAS), which is the database of accredited bodies
6. Check their factory audit report
As one of the checks to classify a company is to ask the company for their factory audit report. If they send you this report, then check the company name on the report. The name on the audit report should match with the one on the business license. If it is so, then they are a manufacturing company.
One thing to note here is that, some companies may have separate names for the office and their factory. If this is a case, then they must have a separate business license for the factory. You should ask them for the factory business license as well, and perform the verification steps. Check for the business scope and other vital information on the license. They would also mention the name of their factory on their website. Basically, they would not want to hide the fact, and provide you all the information you need.
Also, not all manufacturers would necessarily have a factory audit report. So if they are not able to provide you the report, then this does not automatically classify them as a trading company.
7. Ask for their factory’s pictures
The factory pictures that they send you will give you some idea of their capacity. But don’t take these pictures too seriously, as these pictures can be fake as well. However, when you ask for their factory’s pictures, do not forget to ask for the name block outside the factory, with the factory building in the background. Check and match the characters of the factory name with that on the business license. If they are a legit manufacturer, the name should be same.
8. Ask for the relevant company documents to see if they are even a legit company
To investigate them further, you should ask for their documents related to their company and business. It is important to know them better for your safety as well. We have covered the list of documents in this article that you should seek before you settle into a contract with your supplier.
9. Check their business scope on company’s business license
The business scope on the company’s license includes the most important information about the company. In their business scope, look for the characters like 制造 (manufacture)，生产 (produce)，加工 (process) and so on. You will find these words on the manufacturer’s license, but not on that of the trading company.
You can scan the QR-code on the business license to go directly to the relevant webpage of the company in the National Enterprise Credit Information Publicity System (NECIPS) database. It is almost impossible for a company to fudge this information, as the same information is available publicly on government’s official NECIPS database. Therefore, checking their business scope is one of the easiest methods to tell if they are a manufacturer or not.
10. Visit their factory and see their manufacturing operations
This is by far the most reliable method to tell if your supplier is a manufacturing or a trading company. If you plan to visit China, you must visit your supplier’s factory to see their manufacturing operations. However, if you cannot travel to China by yourself, you can seek someone’s help who is living locally to make this visit instead of you. Another option is to hire a professional sourcing or an auditing firm for this reason. After all, the sourcing agency or the auditing firm will charge you much less than what you would spend on traveling to China by yourself.
If not anything else, then you should at least ask them for their factory address. Ask them how and when you or anyone on your behalf can visit their factory. Tell them that when you visit the factory, you will be checking their manufacturing areas as well. Observe how they respond. A genuine manufacturer should welcome your visit happily, and would be keen in making all the arrangements for you.
There are several different ways you can judge your supplier to know if they are a manufacturing or a trading company. However, no method is foolproof and can give you the 100% guarantee on your judgment. But the visit to the factory personally would provide the most knowledge and the best judgment about the supplier. So if you are not able to visit the factory personally, we recommend doing as many checks as you can to stay safe at your end of the business.