There are some common things that I’ve seen happen over and over in the importing business over the last 10 years, and they all have to do with these three pitfalls. The first is details. Importing is all about managing the details. There is a reason that low wage countries are low wage countries. It is because they don’t have the infrastructure and expertise that comes with doing business in a developed country. So, if you want to import product out of one of these countries, then you had better have all of your details lined out. What do I mean by details? There’s a major difference between the mindset of a factory in Asia and an importer in the US, and that is what is valued in the product being produced. The importer values the features and quality of the product being produced. The factory values getting the product packaged and passed the inspector at the cheapest possible cost to them because generally they are getting paid the same whether they cut corners or not as long as the inspector doesn’t reject the item. So, when I say have your details lined out, I mean that all features and product attributes need to be in a document somewhere that the factory has seen and signed.
The second most common pitfall is not managing the details. That sounds a lot like the first pitfall, and that’s because it is very similar but not the same. It’s one thing to document what you want in your product, but it’s quite another to have that product produced. And, that is where the managing comes in. There is often a lot of interpretation in the definition of your product details. Let’s say that you are producing an item that is made from wood and you want the item painted a particular color, let’s say red. Some might give the factory a picture of the color and tell them what kind of wood to use. Someone else might take the extra step of giving them a sample that’s painted the color that you want. Now what? Well, now the factory is going to produce an item that varies in both wood types and color. You say that you documented the color and the factory agreed. What they will say is that the orange looking piece that arrived at your warehouse is red even though you clearly think it’s orange. What you really need to be able to do is communicate what you want an inspector to reject in addition to what is the goal.
Detail the process. The third thing that you have to do for a factory is to outline and give them precise time-lines for which your expect them to follow. Most factories are going to tell you their lead time. Beyond that you should ask when you should expect certain milestones to be met. For example, if there is raw material to be bought, when will it be available to see or they might just let you know when it arrives. And most important, when can you or your representative come by to see these milestones. The most important of the milestones will be final inspection. Especially on your first order, you’ll want to be sure that NO product is placed into cartons without your looking at it. Once it is in the carton, getting any problems sorted out will become much more difficult.
What you should take from this is that the more details you can document and get sign-off on, the better off you’ll be. Clear instructions leads to clear deliverables.