Getting a visa, purchasing a plane ticket, and flying to China to visit a factory for the first time can be daunting. The logistics alone are a lot to juggle, plus you’ll be dealing with jetlag and a long list of to do’s to work through upon arrival. It’s easy to miss something or let something go undone.
The good news is you don’t need an engineering or auditing background to have a beneficial and productive factory visit. Come prepared with good questions and focus areas, and then adjust based on what you see. Be smart with your questions.
Once the visit is over, you will more than likely find that it was well worth it, perhaps having caught issues in person that would take weeks to identify otherwise. Here’s a synopsis from Need/Want, Inc. owners Marshall Hass and Jon Wheatley:
“Immediately, we noticed a few issues with the product – things that would have been hard to catch if we weren’t there in person. Had we not been there, it would have taken a few weeks to catch them. The process normally is to wait for the sample to be shipped to our office in Saint Louis. This alone made it worthwhile for us to fly out there. The entire trip was all worth it just to catch this one mistake.”
Marshall and Jon also added that you will be doing a lot of waiting. In other words, a large percentage of time won’t be “productive” but it will be supporting other time that could be immensely productive and beneficial.
Your factory visit is a big deal and needs considerable preparation to maximize its usefulness. After all, you are only spending a matter of hours with someone that you probably won’t see for another year – you’ve got to make it count! Other than being prepared to wait, you’ll want to prepare your factory for the visit and prepare yourself to succeed.
Make an effort to keep your factory in the know, well informed, and duly considered in your plans. Let them know how many of you are coming, what your travel schedule is, and ask them what dates/times would be best for a visit.
They also need to have reasonable visibility into your agenda for the factory visit. Help them be ready with any areas, samples, or process that you are there to observe.
Next is your own preparation, which is much more intensive. Make a list of any quality issues you’ve been having and procure related documentation and photos of these issues. Bring documentation of product specifications, production schedules, QC checklists, and any other documents that you may need at some point. Come prepared with copies that can be distributed to everyone who needs them.
Also make a thorough list of any questions and comments that need to be brought up during the visit. Don’t rely on your exhausted, scattered, jet-lagged brain to remember everything on the spot.
If you want a lower price, figure out exactly what price you want before you get there. Have a hefty list of reasons why the price should be lower, even if they may not all be as strong as you would like. Â When you are in conversation with the personnel, ask about different ways that you could lower prices. Sometimes different materials can be used for a better price with equal quality. Even using different paint can be an opportunity for savings!
While You Are There
Be sure to walk the factory floor and ask questions about what you see. Take pictures, pick up and examine things, and keep your eye out for anything that seems odd or out of place.
Take a walk through their warehouse as well. Is it big enough to handle your orders? What other products do you see?
Have an open mind when you are conducting the visit. As you walk through your agenda and questions, be ready to pivot your focus to something you discover after arrival. If you are still looking for a new factory and visiting a promising prospect, it’s important to ask open-ended questions and test what you see against the factory’s answers.
Culturally, you will always hear “yes”as the go-to answer for any yes-or-no questions. Instead of asking, “Do you export to the U.S?” try, “Which countries do you export to?” Then, when you are walking through the warehouse, look at the languages on the packaging. If they say they export to the U.S. but you don’t see any English on the packaging, ask about it.
You are spending thousands of dollars, risking your life, and throwing off your sleep cycle to visit this factory. Make it worth your time!