Finding a China product supplier has never seemed easier. We now have a whole host of both foreign and Chinese online services to speed up this process for you, the buyer. It’s almost like speed dating.

However, as with beginning any serious relationship, you should take it slow.

Qualifying your China product supplier
Qualifying your China product supplier

We have warned you before (here and here) about the danger of buyers being seduced by the ease of finding Chinese suppliers online to the point of not conducting sufficient or any due diligence. What exactly do these online product “matching” services do to “verify” suppliers and to what extent can you rely them? Though there is assuredly a variety to the process the various online companies use to to promote “top suppliers” to you, it is important to know what that process is:

  • Is the supplier merely purchasing a more expensive advertisement package with better search result placement?
  • Is anyone visiting the suppliers in person?
  • Does the customs data provided trace back to the actual factory that produced the product or to a broker?
  • What is the legal name and banking preferences of the company that will eventually invoice you?

For all but the smallest purchases, we encourage companies that are outsourcing manufacturing to China-based suppliers to do the following:

  • Do some hard work yourself. Spend the time to travel to go and see the potential factory and to meet people face to face. As we wrote in  China Business Due Diligence, when you visit, take special notice of everything: factory details, names, signs, materials on site, etc.
  • Bring a Mandarin speaker with you that you trust. This person should not actually be one of the parties in the deal, and it is best if you can arrange for a stealth translator.
  • Conduct thorough research on the potential supplier before you sign anything. Know the exact Chinese company that will sign the contract, who actually owns the company (and its parent company), and get copies of all company documents and certifications, including the Legal Representative’s ID. Do not be afraid to physically inspect the original ID, as this is what Chinese businesses do.
  • Confirm how payments will be made. Make sure the bank account information provided matches the company name. Also, understand if you will be paying a Mainland or Hong Kong bank, and what the ramifications are of that choice.
  • Don’t get too excited. Taking it slow means seeing through the dinners and nice words, and not getting caught up in ceremony and platitudes and the thrill of doing business internationally or in greatly reducing your costs. Be polite, but do not being easy. These guys are pros at working Westerners, and you just gotta keep your head.

Moving too fast results in only the Chinese partner being rewarded. It’s never the other way around.