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Entrepreneurship General Topics and tips Tools & How-Tos

Should You Hire a Chinese Sourcing Agency?

China exports all kinds of products. After all, China is a mass manufacturing might. Many economies, big or small, are very much dependent on the products that are imported from China. If you are also considering importing goods from China, or have been importing for a while, would you consider hiring or partnering with a sourcing agency for your help? Or, would you like to go through the whole process all by yourself?

If you are willing to go through the whole purchasing process by yourself, then you may like to know how you can identify a real manufacturing company in China. And once you find an appropriate manufacturer or supplier, you would definitely want to know if they are even a legit company to deal with without legal or logistic issues.

A sourcing agent is your friend in need
A sourcing agent is your friend in need

Why Would You Even Consider Hiring a Sourcing Agency at First Place?

For many, finding the required product, choosing the right supplier, and getting through the supplier verification process is sometimes a tedious and a difficult job. You may want to get rid of this tiring effort.

Or, you may not have much time to spare before you would want your store be filled with the desired products.

Or, you may even don’t have much confidence in your skills or findings regarding your specific supplier.

Whether you are a novice importer, or have been importing from China for quite some time, you will find these questions at some point in your business. These issues are very much experienced by novice and seasoned importers alike. Naturally, you would want to ensure the safety of your investment.

In such cases, it sounds appropriate to transfer the burden of end to end sourcing and delivery on the hired shoulders of a sourcing agency. This arrangement will allow you to turn your focus away from dealing with the sellers all by yourself. In doing so, you can spend more time and energies on the selling part of your business and handling local business issues.

Many people are already looking for someone local for help

Most companies or small business owners rely on someone local in China to assist them in sourcing and closing a deal. Throughout my 16 or so years of stay in China, many of my friends have approached me for assisting them in dealing with their supplier. Many people contact me for the same purpose through social media or through references, just because I am here.

If you are dealing with a company for the first time, you would want to make sure they are operating legally. Off course, you would want to save your skin… and money, and do not want to be fooled by some company thousands of miles away.

The local agencies or sourcing companies in China can help you in doing these tasks for you. Off course they charge for their services, but that is an expense sometimes worth making.

How a Local Agency or a Product Sourcing Company Is Helpful for You?

As they say, there is no substitute for experience—and this benefit alone could be worth spending the money.

Think about the following reasons for hiring a product sourcing company.

Sourcing companies know their local market like the back of their hand.

Using their knowledge, they can potentially propose a much better plan for your business for you to use.

A sourcing agency typically have close ties with the local suppliers.

They may have worked with several suppliers and manufacturers in the past. Therefore, they can get a better deal most of the times because of their relationship with them.

They speak the local language.

The largest barrier in dealing with Chinese companies for most foreigners is the inability to speak the local language. When you hire a sourcing agency, the language will not become a barrier in dealing with the suppliers and performing negotiations. You do not want miscommunication in getting through your requirements. The sourcing agency can easily verify supplier’s documents that are typically in the local language.

They probably have heard every question multiple times that you have to ask.

Given their experience with other clients, they are almost always ready to satisfy your requirements and provide appropriate support.

They know the current dynamics of the market that you would probably not know if you are new.

For example, what regions are known for what kind of products, how suppliers can fool overseas buyers, and so on. This is an invaluable knowledge that can save your business from a setback.

They may have other clients who are looking for the same product as you.

If that is the case, then they can place a bigger order, and can get further discount from the supplier.

They know the best methods to negotiate with the companies and manufacturers in China.

They know the practices and customs of the local market. After finding the right manufacturer and knowing the right price, they use the right negotiation techniques to help you get the lower price without compromising on any of your requirements.

They save a lot of your time.

They have the right knowledge and specialized skills in procurement, and therefore can be more efficient in securing a deal.

Sourcing companies usually have a network of agents all over the country.

They can utilize their network and connections to serve your needs.

What Services Do They Usually Provide?

As a matter of fact, a product sourcing agency can provide many different services based on customers’ needs. You can an agency for the whole sourcing process, or only for the selected part of the job.

Consider these agencies as your one stop shop for your business in China.

They generally provide the following services.

Sourcing a product for your business

If you are looking to import products, but have no idea where to start. Or, you do not want to spend your time in researching and verifying the appropriate supplier. You can seek help of a sourcing agency in that case. The sourcing agency would provide you the end to end services, from finding the appropriate supplier, to shipping your products to your destination.

Helping in selecting the appropriate supplier for your products

You can hire a sourcing agency only to find an appropriate supplier for your business. You may want to take it over from there and further deal with the company by yourself.

Auditing factory, vetting and verification of supplier

You may have already found an appropriate supplier for your business, but you are not sure if they work legally in China and can really provide proper services. In such a case, you can hire the services of an agency to perform factory audits and verify the supplier’s credentials.

Evaluating product samples before issuing purchase order

You have already selected a supplier and are satisfied with them. Whether you want to avoid hefty overseas shipping charges on samples for some reason, or having time constraints, you can hire the agency to evaluate the samples for you and provide you a report.

Following up on orders

After you have placed the order, the agency can help you keeping an eye on the schedule. They can keep following up on orders as and when you require them.

Testing and inspecting your products before shipping

You can hire a sourcing agency to test and inspect the produced goods to make sure they are according to your requirements. They usually perform product inspection according to industry standards.

Handling shipping and logistics

The product sourcing agencies usually have relationships with several different freight forwarders. They coordinate with your supplier and freight forwarder, and utilize their contacts to send your shipment using the best way.

Providing other value adding services

Many sourcing agencies provide additional services; such as, private labeling, customizing the product or its label or its packaging, and so on. They also provide drop shipping and fulfillment services directly from Mainland China.

What Would They Usually Charge You for Their Service?

The sourcing agencies have different payment and compensation methods to charge for their services:

Price-based flat rate for buyer

This service fee is typically the percentage of the price of the goods purchased. The agency negotiates the price with the supplier on your behalf, and typically charge you between 1 and 10% of the total price. This method is completely open and transparent to you, and keep you involved in every aspect of the purchase process.

Price markup

The agencies with this method act as independent trading companies. They source the product for you, and provide you a price by adding their own commission on top of the product price. In this case, you would typically not know the actual price and source of the product. However, they make sure that all your requirements are met. They negotiate with the supplier and make all the arrangements according to your needs. That is, they take the complete responsibility of purchasing and exporting the product to your destination as per your requirements.

Purchase commission from supplier

This is the commission in percentage that the agency charges from the manufacturer or supplier. They usually team up with the supplier and act as their selling agent.

Commission from both buyer and supplier

The agencies with this method take commission from both parties. This method allows them to keep the commission low for both supplier and the buyer. For example, if they charge only the buyer or the supplier, they would charge 8% commission of the total amount. But if they charge both parties for their services, they would charge 4% each to earn that same 8% commission.

Charges for miscellaneous services

The agencies would charge a different services charges for other services that they offer. Such as, supplier verification, testing and inspection, and so on. These charges may or may not be based on the value of the product.

So Which Sourcing Agency Should You Partner with?

Are you more concerned about the source of the product? Or, quality and price of the product is more of your issue?

Consider the different services and methods mentioned above. Think about the services you need to hire, and the method that would suit you for the business. And based on that, find a sourcing agency that works with that mode.

A particular point of concern is that that a sourcing agency that charges commission from the supplier may have a biased interest towards the supplier. If an agency is charging a low fee for their services, there is no guarantee that they would not charge the supplier as well. When they do so, they may not work in the best interest of the buyers.

For example, when looking for suppliers, the agency successfully finds a supplier with the perfect match, who fulfills all the requirements. However, the supplier does not agree to the commission terms of the agency. In that case, the agency would let go that supplier in favor of the one who would pay them more commission.

This means, the sourcing agency that you hired to serve your interest, may compromise on some requirements when purchasing. They go ahead with the less qualified supplier. Why? Because that supplier pays them good commission.

That is why an independent agency that serve your interests and fulfill your requirements would always be a better choice. They charge relatively higher commission, but that commission would be much lower than what you would spend on traveling to China and doing the whole process by yourself. And traveling to China in the times of pandemic is not so convenient.

Conclusion

There are times when you need some “boots on the ground” to help you with your business with Chinese companies. You can hire a sourcing agency for that purpose, to help you with the complete purchasing process, or a part of the job. They provide plenty of options and services for you to choose from.

In other words, whatever you would like to do by yourself, if you were in China, they would do all that for you. At the times when you are not being able to travel to China, this indeed is a great help that you may wish you have.

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Entrepreneurship General Topics and tips Products

How To Identify A Real Manufacturing Company?

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 worker at a manufacturing comppany
A worker at a factory

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.

Exceptions

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:

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.

Conclusion

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.

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