Sourcing in China, the Land of Cutting Corners

Sourcing in China, the Land of Cutting Corners

One of the most common questions we are faced with in this day and age in China sourcing, is the question of quality.  When talking to importers about their China sourcing programs I note it is a pretty common belief among them that sourcing from China may mean serious cuts in costs AND quality. This should not have to be the case if you have the right procedures in place, but doing that is often a lot of work, and many importers seem to take the attitude that “the factory knows what they are doing” and so hope for the best, keeping their fingers crossed.

I recently came across an interesting article written by a British writer and editor, James Palmer, author of The Death of Mao: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Birth of the New China (2012). The article, “Chabuduo: Close Enough…,”  brings up a very real and troubling issue many importers face when establishing and managing their China sourcing program.

Chabuduo: meaning “close enough”. A philosophy that plagues the China supply chains and trickles down into our own backyard, here in the US. The gate wont lock? We’ll fasten it with wire. You want to source brown stuffed teddy bears? Here are some red ones instead. Close enough.  You got a good price, right? What are you complaining about?

As much as we’d like to ignore it and hope for the best, it is impossible for a serious China importer to run a successful China sourcing operation with products at a good price but average, at best, quality; by arguing “I am doing my best, but ‘That’s China’.” The reality for many importers is that one really bad shipment could mean closing their doors for good.  Knowing this often translates into sleepless nights wondering if the shipment that is about to arrive will be as expected.  Not a good way to do business.  Especially because the “worst-fear” prophesy often seems self-fulfilling:  the Chinese factory who notices the buyer not paying attention to details has a tendency to be less concerned too – and delivers “good enough” products.  It is a vicious cycle.

Worrying about this will not fix it.  So what will?  One of the first things, second only to price, most importers are concerned about is quality. How can they avoid the pitfalls of such a common philosophy as Chabuduo in a place where it is socially acceptable? What are the steps to avoid leaving things to chance, to ensure that the goods will arrive looking great?

Importers sourcing from China are not accustomed to the “Close enough,” philosophy, but have, rather, a “Can I do better?” attitude.  The very reason many importers go to China is to improve their product and mass produce it at an optimal price. The Chabuduo philosophy may exist in China at a certain level, but for China to be “The World’s Factory”, this philosophy surely cannot be the norm, or if it is, it can be easily avoided.

Reflecting on this, I noted our clients do not seem to have this problem.  Why is shoddy quality not a concern for them?  As it turns out, it is not that complicated.  I found out that they and their China sourcing team simply leave nothing to chance.  They vet the factories in advance, they specify every painstaking detail, they check everything, and they do it every time.

Chabuduo seems to only happen when the China sourcing procedures and the accountability system themselves are “Chabuduo “.  Conversely, when you cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s, when you leave very little to chance and you stack the deck in your favor, the quality should be great.  Not convinced?  Look at really professional manufacturers like Foxconn who make the iPhone in China:  the quality of that product is the result of highly detailed processes that are rigorously applied.

In our 38+ years in business, our experience has shown that a great China sourcing program is the result of great procedures and a refusal to accept “good enough.” In the words of Jim Collins, author of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice.”

Do you agree?  What has your China sourcing experience been?

By Jocelyn Trigueros

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