Sunday, December 26, 2010

Skip the Stock Sample Jazz

They're busy producing, not fishing for orders w/stock samples. 

Samples:  You need them.  Without a sample, how will know you the quality?  How can you signoff on the deal with your brand or your retail customer without presenting them with a physical item to hold in their hands? 

Obviously there’s not a sample vending machine inside the factory (although many customers talk as if they think there is one).  The following scenario is not likely to happen.

Customer:  “We’re going to need samples to further confirm the order”

Factory: “Please tell us what size, shape and color and we’ll get those to you right away;  we definitely understand how important samples are.”

When I first started working in Nanjing, China in 2001, factories would eagerly provide or even specially manufacture pre-production samples.  I’m talking “money-not-in-hand, no-idea-if-you’re-going-to-order samples” 

In 2011, post World recession, Chinese factories hate providing samples.  And when I say “samples”, I reiterate, I especially mean, pre-production, “you haven’t paid the factory any deposit, order doesn’t look any closer than the man-in-the-moon kind of samples”… I’m talking those kinds of samples… 

Recommendation against requesting stock samples:   When buyers request stock samples from the factory, I generally recommend against it.  Because you’re going to end up waiting on a package (for which you’re most likely paying the international express freight) of pieces that are broken, ugly colored, bad printed and old. 

If you push your factory to send you stock samples, they will.  They’ll grab any old piece off the shelf and send to you.  It will turn you off and you will think they are not competent at production.  But that’s not the case.  You asked for samples, (which they don’t understand why you’re doing this in the first place unless you have an order in hand), they sent them.  These old stock pieces are not representative of what they can do.   

If the factory tells you they don’t want to send stock samples…don’t keep pushing them to do so; find another solution.  They’ll eventually cave in, you’ll get junk and it can compromise the order.  

Why is like this?  Factories don’t view themselves as the originator of the product; they view themselves as someone who only produces the product.   If anybody should be sending samples, it is the customer who should be sending samples to the factory of what they want produced. 
What do you want duplicated? 

What quality level do you want us to reach? 

That’s what the factory is thinking.

Factories are flexible in quality ranges, material, etc… in their area of production.  For example if you’re doing a branded gift and the factory specializes in this product range, they can generally match various quality ranges..just a matter of copying an original product.    

Factories do a poor job of keeping, storing & cataloguing samples:  How many factories have you been to and seen a show room covered in dust of outdated items?   In the promo, gift, retail business, this is the majority. 

Factories don’t keep a storage area of order samples.  If you’re doing a reorder, think twice before you assume the factory kept a proper sample from the first order…

When factories do keep samples, it’s pieces they pulled out of production, that wouldn’t pass QC.  All the good pieces, in order to save cost, they’re going to make sure they go with the shipment.  

But you still need samples, so what’s the solution?

Don’t ask for stock samples:  If you only need stock samples to see if your customer is interested; get them locally from a local supplier or go to the store and actually buy the piece.  Factories are busy and aren’t interested in supplying nice stock samples.  First, they probably don’t have them and if they do offer, you’re going to get junk.

Also if you only need stock samples; you’re customer is only partially interested….don’t bother the factory.

Go directly into the customized phase:  If you can provide your customer w/stock samples from a local vendor, store or if you have on hand and you know your factory can reasonably land in the needed area of quality, go right to next-step stages:

Perhaps send the stock piece you have in hand to the factory to duplicate, along with pantone #’s and artwork, pay the setup fees and go right into pre-production, customized piece.

Factories will take you seriously if you’re willing to pay the setup fees, if you have artwork in hand and you’re ready to get rolling.  Then they’ll a bit more willing to play the “give-and-take” role.  As the old cliché goes, “Money talks stock samples…can take a hike?”.  You know what I mean….


This doesn’t refer to factories with which the customer has a long-term buying relationship. 

This, like all my articles on production, principally focuses on the branded / retail industries.  I imagine the same principles can apply in other areas, but for different industries, very likely it could be different.

Lastly, these are all opinions from my 8 year + history of doing this inside of China.  Perhaps you’re a big time player abroad and have had better success.  Perhaps you have different methods…feel free to post comments and share on this blog…I’m still learning. 

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