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Looking for the best China sourcing agent? Here are five tips on picking the right one

The five qualities a good sourcing agent must have.

Vaughn Cook RockWell Window Wells
Eric Bengtson
November 22, 2019

If you’ve decided to look for a sourcing agent to handle your China manufacturing requirements, congratulations, you’ve made the right decision. A good sourcing agent will help you ensure the success of your project, allowing you to focus on growing your business.

But the question you might be asking yourself now is: “How do I find the best China sourcing agent for my needs?” A Google search will throw up several China sourcing agents, all of whom will claim to be the best in the business. Yes, some will be better than the others, but how do you zero down on the one that will be the best fit for you?

Having worked in the sourcing business since 2006, I have a few tips for you. In my opinion, any good sourcing agent must have:

  1. A local presence in China
  2. An office close to you – the customer
  3. Excellent communication skills
  4. Experience in sourcing from China
  5. Be a specialist in the product you want to manufacture.

 

I will address each of these points in this blog. 

Photo 1: The Yangshan Port in Shanghai, China. Photo credit: lwtt93/Flickr (Licenced under: CC BY 2.0)


1. A local presence in China

Sourcing agents are expected to be your representatives in China – your boots on the ground and the reason you don’t need to fly to China regularly or spend time and money setting up an office there. This is why your sourcing agent must have an office or team based in China.

An agent with a local presence will be able to quickly find you a reliable supplier. Their local staff will also negotiate prices with the local factory owners, resulting in better pricing.

China-based sourcing agents bring several other advantages with them. They will be able to steer you away from unreliable suppliers or scams. Once they help you finalise a supplier, they will take care of the documentation, draw up payment terms beneficial to you, order and help you assess and approve of samples, conduct multiple in-process quality checks and resolve problems that crop up during factory production, right up till pre-shipment quality and documentation checks. Again, to do all of this reliably and efficiently, they will need to be present on the ground in China.

  

2. An office close to you – the customer

It is not easy to find a reliable China sourcing agent as several sourcing experts have mentioned online.

“I often describe China sourcing agents with the following: ‘Ninety percent are crooks or incompetents and most are both of these things. But ten percent are worth more than their weight in gold,’” wrote one of them in the China Law Blog.

Sourcing agents who have an office both in the West and China are more likely to fall in the 10% “gold” category because they’ve invested more in their business. They will also be easier to track down in case they disappear on you.

Additionally, the internet may have made it easier for us to communicate with people across the world, but there are still impediments to clear and swift communication. These include the different languages we speak and the fact that the buyer and supplier or sourcing agent may be based in different time zones.

If you are a customer based in the West, any query you send a sourcing agent based solely in China will only be answered after a couple of hours, leading to delays that accumulate over the duration of your project. 

This is one of the reasons why it is advisable to hire a sourcing agent who has an office in the West as well as China.

Agents with a presence in both places will also be familiar with western quality expectations and will work with the Chinese manufacturers to give you exactly what you want, reducing the chances of any last-minute quality-related surprises that can be costly to fix.

 

3. Excellent communication skills

Reams have been written on the internet about the communication challenges western businesses face in China. These are not just related to the fact that China lies in a different time zone or that its people speak a different language, but also to its cultural quirks. A good sourcing agent will not only be familiar with the most-spoken language in China – Mandarin – but will also be acquainted with the country’s cultural differences, allowing them to guide you through the minefield that these differences can be for unsuspecting importers.

Let’s look at just one of these unique cultural concepts: Miànzi – or face. Miànzi can be blamed when a manufacturer produces a sample/product that is not good enough because they didn’t understand your requirements clearly but held back from asking for clarifications because they were afraid of losing “face”.

A good sourcing agent will anticipate that this may happen and virtually spell out all your requirements to the supplier to ensure that they have understood your specifications down to the last nut or groove.

 

4. Experience in sourcing from China

While experience is valued over inexperience in several spheres worldwide, it is especially valuable in sourcing because of the risk involved. Whether you are a conglomerate or a small to medium enterprise, sourcing from a country halfway across the world from you is a risk – with both your money and your reputation on the line. If your consignment is delayed, for instance, it will not only wreak havoc with your inventory but will upset loyal customers, hurting your revenue and reputation in the long run.

Hiring an experienced sourcing agent – one who has been in the business for at least six years – will protect you against these risks. These agents have several advantages:

  1. They will usually have a bank of reliable suppliers they have worked with before, allowing them to quickly identify a supplier who can give you exactly what you need when you want it.
  2. They will be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of these suppliers. They will know, for instance, which supplier to pick in case your product needs further development, or which one to pick if it is imperative that your product has a super smooth finish.
  3. They will know what you need to do to protect your IP rights in China.
  4. They will be able to anticipate what can go wrong with lead times. They add extra days or weeks to lead times, for instance, because of local disruptions caused by festivals such as Chinese New Year.
  5. They will know what HS Code (a shipping code) to put on your consignment, protecting you from expensive and frustrating delays that incorrect shipping codes cause.
  6. Such agents will also be able to tell you if your expectations, say, with regard to quality, are too high, or whether your design is too ambitious to fulfill technically. This knowledge will save you time and effort.

 

5. Be an expert in the product you want to manufacture

There are a million things you can source from China – from toys to sports goods to automobile components to door knobs and bathroom fixtures. It will be difficult if not impossible to find a sourcing agent who is an expert in all of these industries. But what you can do is find a sourcing agent who is an expert in the process used to manufacture your product.

So, if you want to manufacture plastic injection molding or die casting products, look for agents who specialize in these manufacturing processes. These experts will know the ins and outs of these processes and will be able to steer you away from potential problems.

An expert in plastic injection molding manufacturing in China, for instance, will know that some suppliers will use recycled material without telling the customer. But recycled plastic does not give the same performance as new material, which can be a problem if the product’s strength is crucial to its function. An agent who is an expert in this field will ensure that the factory uses fresh material and doesn’t slip in recycled material on the sly.

Photo 2: Chinese factory worker. Photo credit: Cory M Grenier/Flickr (Licenced under: CC BY 2.0)

 

Sourcing Allies is a team of expert China sourcing agents that has helped western customers manufacture and source products from low-cost regions since 2006.

For more information visit our website or write to us at info@sourcingallies.com.

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