Visiting a factory can be a worthwhile investment of your time, money, and energy, and it can help you catch potential issues with a new supplier and move projects forward more quickly.
At the moment, however, the pandemic is making travel to Asian countries quite tricky, especially China. So if you don’t have an in-country presence, you may need to rely entirely on a sourcing and auditing company (like Insight Quality Services) to visit factories in your place.
But let’s say you have the chance to visit a factory in China or elsewhere in Asia — how should you approach it? First, let’s talk about why you would want to travel to the factory, then we will talk about how to approach the situation.
Why You Should Consider Visiting
Even if you don’t have an engineering or auditing background, you can still have a beneficial and productive factory visit. If you visit during the sampling process, you might catch issues in person that would take weeks to identify.
Seeing the supplier’s facilities with your own eyes can help you understand how they do business and handle production. Visiting also helps build stronger relationships, and anyone who has worked with factories in China can tell you how incredibly valuable that is.
While visiting suppliers, you will do a lot of waiting, and 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 or more – you’ve got to make it count! So let’s talk about what to cover on your visit to a potential supplier.
Some Tips on How to Prepare
Make an effort to keep your factory in the know, well informed, and duly considered in your plans. Tell them how many of you are coming and your travel schedule, and ask them what dates/times would be best for a visit.
They also need to have good visibility into your agenda for the factory visit. Help them be ready with any areas, samples, or manufacturing processes 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 other documents that you may need at some point. Come prepared with copies that you can distribute to everyone who needs them.
Also, make a thorough list of any questions and comments you need to bring up during the visit. 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.
When you are in conversation with the personnel, ask about different ways that you could lower prices. Sometimes you can use different materials for a better price with equal quality. Even using different paint can be an opportunity for savings!
What to do 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 and raw materials storage areas as well. Are they big enough to handle your orders, and what other products and materials 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 often 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.
Why You Should Also Consider a Professional Audit
There is a lot you can accomplish during your factory visit. However, if you are serious about getting better supply chain results, consider a factory audit. An audit is a more formal assessment that involves evaluating the supplier’s facilities and processes.
An audit can focus on the aspects most vital to your business, like supplier capability, quality management, security, social compliance, or environmental management. If you don’t have an experienced quality assurance professional on your team or can’t travel, you can hire a company with an in-country presence like Insight Quality Services.
Conducting an audit requires planning but will help you achieve better product quality and supplier relationships in the long run. For more information about how to prepare for a factory assessment, we recommend downloading the following guide.
How to Prepare for a Factory Audit
A factory audit helps you assess a supplier's systems, capacity, workplace environment, or capabilities to ensure they meet your requirements as a buyer.
But which type of audit should you conduct, and which points should you cover on your checklist? In this free guide, you'll learn how to run an effective supplier assessment.