Wednesday, November 30, 2011

China Water-Cooler Chatter

After close to 10 years of working (and living) in China, here are common, office chatter topics which I've either heard in passing or had the pleasure to partake in the conversation.  

Monday, November 21, 2011

Back to the Basics: FOB

The goal of this post isn’t to get into the Incoterms or technicality of buying FOB from China.  I’m highlighting some of the moving pieces during the heat of battle…I mean…during the heat of the order. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"Well, I Told 'Em To..."

The comment, "Well, I told them to…" never ceases to amaze me.  Usually someone says this, when some problem or issue arises.  

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Price is Too High

What are you saying when you lob at your supplier the simple sentence, “Price is too high.”?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Listening Skills

How are your listening skills?  Are you a good listener?

Monday, October 3, 2011

JLsocial: Expat Life Coach

I’ve lived abroad for close to 10 years.  Expat life is not always glamorous.  There are many occasions you can feel like nobody who has ever walked the face of the Earth has ever had similar experiences and that you are just an island unto yourself. 

Friday, September 30, 2011

South China

From March 2004 to November of 2007, Leeds and I lived in South China’s Guangdong province; specifically Dongguan City.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

It's Not About the Money

Production problems, sourcing issues or timing delays are not always directly related to dollars and cents.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

It's A Lot Like Banking

Manufacturing in China is a lot like a trip to the local bank.  All the waits, crowds, the responses and the communication level that you find in dealing with your vendor, you’ll also find in a basic window transaction.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Back to the Basics: Sampling Process

A smooth sampling process is critical to successful offshore manufacturing.  More times than not, in the promotional product industry, super-fast delivery times are usually lurking around the corner, so time is not on your side.

(Hey; thanks for stopping by.  After you read this post, visit me over at the new house, - You have a thousand things you can do in your day from work, family and things that are a million times more important than my blogs - but I am very appreciative of the community and any time you spend.  Please remember to leave a comment so we can continue to connection, thanks  ~ Jacob Yount Fri Mar 16, '12)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sampling Strife

In the Western mind;  you pay for a product, you expect it to be right.  But how do you define the term “right”?  You expect it to be “right” as far as your mind, background and surroundings define the term.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Average Joe or VIP?

Amazing how people get excited about a leader or public figure of another nation, doing something so radical as….carrying their own bag and ordering their own coffee?!?! 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Smaller Order Pitfalls

“We don’t need a large quantity and the brand needed the goods yesterday”.  Manufacturing for the ad specialty and promotional production industries, this is an often played tune.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

1st Time

“Contact us to discuss your inquiry and we’ll analyze the case to make sure you’re a customer worth handling”.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Finding a Factory

Importers often comment how they are “interested in finding a factory”.   If you are buying promotional products / ad specialty items, are you sure this is your best bet?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Meaning What You Say

Recently I saw an announcement for a China-focused seminar.  The speaker was a “China expert” in manufacturing, had a seasoned background in traveling to China, importing from China and the point of the seminar, was to train other folks on “ins and outs” of China business. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Back to the Basics: Air Shipping

In the spirit of the last “Back to the Basics” article on sea shipping, here is the air-shipping counterpart. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

We’ve Been Doing This for “X Number” of Years

Mountains of advantages come from good ol’ fashion experience.  Many things in life and business come from putting the time in, logging in hours and simply doing it.

Friday, July 15, 2011

It’s Like a Big Machine

A Chinese factory is a like a big machine.  Picture a gigantic steamroller that once you push the button, it mindlessly and harshly starts its path, regardless of what’s going on around it.  And once you get that big beast a’ started…it’s extremely hard to find the “off switch”.  Or better yet, it’s extremely hard to find the “let’s all stop for a minute and hold hands and sing kumbaya” switch.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Back to the Basics: Sea Shipping

A few reminders about sea shipping;  especially for those of you in the promotional product / ad specialty industries bringing in goods offshore.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Confessions of an Open Networker

I like LinkedIn.  In fact, probably too much and had let my network get out of control.  The thrill of connecting.  All the exotic foreign countries.  The multitude of careers, positions, names, faces.  I was caught up in the moment.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Lot Like Dining Out

(Thanks for stopping by this post.  After you read this, do me a favor and stop by the new house: Hope to see you there and remember to leave a comment so I know who is reading!  Much love - Jacob) 

This weekend we went to a restaurant that serves “Western Cuisine”.   I mentioned in a post from last year, that I seldom like to go to the so-called Western places in China.  I wasn’t surprised during this outing…the same ol’ same ol’ rang true. 

But one thing that stood out, is that, especially in the promotional product and branded merchandise realms, managing and supervising production from factories is a lot like dining out in China.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Back to the conversation I had with the “China sourcing expert”…

I’m going to pick on this guy again.  Not because this guy just deserves being picked on but because he embodies the mindset of most Westerners in the manufacturing business in China.  It’s a mindset that is focused on the short-term.  It’s also a mindset that leads to a multitude of the problems you see with China manufacturing, whether quality issues, certification / health scares, late delivery times, inconsistent pricing or loss of time.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Does Your Buyer Know You Quote That Way?

Many buyers treat offshore quoting like shopping
Buyers, importers, distributors, folks thinking about becoming importers, distributors who import, suppliers who import…whatever the classification, I’ve heard the same complaint from them whenever they come to a trade show in either Hong Kong or Mainland China.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Supplier Love

(photo credit: GR Sipe)
I recently sat in a seminar where a guy, who runs a company in the Western world, which “specializes in China sourcing”, was telling the attendees not to make relationships with their suppliers.  I couldn’t believe my ears.

Monday, May 23, 2011


China is opening up to the outside world.  Everybody and their brother know China is the place for manufacturing.  

The days of marketing China as a big, mysterious, scary beast are over.  If you are a company that touts itself as a China manufacturing expert and you do it under the blanket of how “scary” and “unreliable” it is to buy from China, then your days of marketing in that fashion may be numbered.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


China is bustling.  There’s no two ways about it, good or bad, the place is rowdy.   It’s a developing nation, it’s changing faster than any nation has changed in modern times and currently it’s a mess.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Work_Pt II

(Photo Credit: GR Sipe)
In the first part of this 2-part series, I illuminated my background and concept of the timeless institution of “work” and endeavored to contrast that with the modern-China concept of the same, or at least as my limited perspective perceives it to be here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Work_Pt I

Managing a company in China since 2004, I’ve seen employees do and say a lot of…hmmm….how to say….weird things.  My China tour-of-duty is going on 10 years and even after these years of robust economic and structural development the country has seen, you can still see, a lack of professional development. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Assumptions:  we all make them.  Many of them good, many of them bad.  I safely assumed when I woke up this morning I would have running water and electricity in my apartment.  That is a fairly safe, daily assumption.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Expect the Expected

(Photo Credit: Cindy W. Yount)
In life you should expect the characteristics of the place you live to shine forth.  For example, I live in China and to be successful, I have to make prevision for China to be like China.

Just as sure as the sun will rise in the East and set in the West, I can expect certain things to happen in China.  The expat and even local Chinese person who lives in China and hopes to grow (physically, spiritually, economically, etc…), should have certain expectations.  Wherever you live and whatever you do, you should be expectant. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Chinese Language “To study or to work???”

Monday's guest blogger is my colleague and friend, Mr. Shakiri Murrain.  See his LinkedIn profile here.

(Photo Credit: GR Sipe)
Since arriving in China in November 2006, I have met many many foreigners coming for a multitude of different reasons.  Some come for study abroad trips, some for business & some just to see the anomaly we call China.  The common denominator is that we all came with huge ambition and not a lot of knowledge of what China actually is like (In my opinion, print/online media give such a limited view).   So no matter how you look at it, there is a lot to learn.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Communication Conundrum

After 9 years + of keeping at in China, the way communication flows here still baffles me and an area in which I constantly have to apply self-discipline.

Communication does not freely flow here.  My wife Leeds and I joke that it’s sort of the concept of squeezing the close-to-empty toothpaste tube.  You have to squeeze a little, get a wee bit, squeeze a lot and get a little.  But without a doubt if you are expecting to be freely and liberally updated, you are setting yourself up for a complete failure. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Don’t Despise Small Beginnings

Small beginning but this guy will grow
(photo credit: GR Sipe)
Small beginnings:  many times they are what lead to the “Big Middle” or “Successful End” (although there never really is “an end” only milestones we reach).  Many of us in business didn’t start out where we are now.  Especially if we own our own business, many of us started from humble beginnings, some beginnings more humble than others. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Keep Your Cool_Part II

People make the low cost goods that you use.  The goods are not made by machines, although machines are involved, but by people.  Many overseas buyers are surprised when they come for factory visits in China and learn how much of the processes are actually done by hand. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Keep Your Cool_Part I

Before I moved to China back in 2001, I was under the impression that the Chinese were a very calm bunch.  I think many Westerners have this idea (stereotype?) in their minds of the solemn, stone-faced, cool-as-a-cucumber Chinese from the mysterious and ancient land.  Even the Chinese play this up;  they do teach to keep your cool in any and all situations.  A calm spirit is an admired spirit here and folks exalt this ability.  In comparing and contrasting Chinese to Westerners (again all from my worldview and time here spent), the Chinese themselves think and say that Westerners are emotional and excitable and Chinese are calm and logical. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Humble Beginnings (China Expat)

Friday's guest blogger is my colleague and friend, Mr. Shakiri Murrain.  See his previous post here, see his LinkedIn profile here

I first came to China in 2006 to advance my professional career and for the personal growth that comes with living abroad.  When I decided to move, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into.  I did not have any Chinese friends, didn’t understand the culture and most of all couldn’t even say hello in Chinese.  But from what I could see on TV and newspapers, it seemed that the entire world was beginning to focus on this place.  (The Chinese Mainland is correctly nicknamed “大路” or Big Street)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Toilet Paper on the Office Desk

It may look tacky, but it gets the job done
When I first came to China, one thing that struck me as odd is that you would see a roll of toilet paper sitting on someone’s desk in an office.  Not only office desks, but in restaurants, you would see one of these babies on the table. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Staffing in China

One of the largest obstacles dealt with in running a business in China is staffing.  I think any expat entrepreneur , multinational company and even Chinese business owners will agree that finding quality, long-term employees is a mountain to climb.  I know, I know, it’s hard everywhere, right?  But….since I lean towards China being the center-of-the-universe and based on my loose experience and memory of dealing with my home country, I’d wager that it’s even more of a pain in the gluteus maximus here in China.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Development Breeds Opportunity

A Picture of Development:  Ugly at first but need to
take a few steps back to make forward strides.
(Folks it’s my great pleasure to introduce Mr. Shakiri Murrain.  Shakiri is an old friend of mine.  We both got our start in China with the same company.  Our first meeting was in 2007 and we maintained contact from then on.  Shakiri is well seasoned in international business and trade.  Starting in Nanjing, China, he built a strong China foundation (language, adapting, maneuvering in business) and carried on his language studies when he returned to the States from 2009 to 2010.  Thankfully in 2011, he’s joined the JLmade team and he makes us even stronger in manufacturing and servicing our brands in the promo and branded merchandise industries.  He is the “guest blogger” for this post.  Hoping he’ll write one once a week and even encouraging him to start his own blog. Without further ado...)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Handling Issues in China_Part II (Spills into Production)

Unity: If supplier / buyer relationship is off balance,
you're building business on a "shaky" foundation
“Jacob, I read Part I. So things are a bit “weird” in problem solving:  big deal?  Can’t you simply adapt to it and learn to love it?”

That’s what I’m saying:  you must adapt to and at least accept it or you’ll lose your mind…and possibly your money.  In this blog will discuss how solving issues in China can overflow into the manufacturing realm and affect your offshore production.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Handling Issues in China_Part I

In the Chinese culture, there is no right way and wrong way to do things. In China, there exists an impersonal force of “right” and an equally impersonal force of “wrong” and by chance, by time, by multiple attempts you may….eventually….arrive close to one of those perceived notions.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Smoke and Mirrors in China Sourcing

Working for a big name client?
Would they approve of this factory and its conditions?

Just because you walked around the Canton Trade Fair in Guangzhou, collected name cards and catalogues, doesn’t mean you are really clear on what’s going on with your sourcing. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Show Your Work!

Inner-factory communication usually not that great:
press your contact to get proper updates from the production line.

In math class you were probably taught, more than once by the teacher, to “show your work.”  Just getting the correct answer was not sufficient, you had to show your path to the goal, right? 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Going Cold on Offshore Projects

Avoid going cold on your projects.  Whether it’s a downtime in communication with your supplier, a delay from your brand in approval or whatever the reason, do what you can to avoid it.   
Worker at Material Dying Kiln: This guy is probably not too concerned
with your brand/client and if they had proper time to sign-off on the next campaign. 
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating;  if you don’t seem concerned and motivated over your project, guess who else is not going to be highly motivated? That’s right, the overseas (China specifically) factory and supplier…. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Smaller Volumes a Must? A Few Key Pts….

Is the order large enough for the factory to
stop, check, care, implement, fix, etc..?

One point to add: trade companies will actively promote the ability to offer smaller quantity runs.  This is a tactic to rope in buyers, because they’ve heard the overseas customers beg for small quantities.  Their idea is “give the public what they want”.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Reasons Against Doing Small Quantities Offshore

Factories feed off large volumes.
Is your order paying the bills?
In the promotional product and branded merchandise industry:  when is the right time to take your inquiry offshore?   Usually the answer to that question is directly related to the quantity of the order. 

As China, on the surface, is becoming more and more accessible, I can sense confusion among offshore buyers as to what quantity is worth pursuing, what quantity is worth taking offshore and what quantity is worth to bring to the beast that is the factory.  

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Chinese New Year's Eve

Living Room or Parlor: inside a typical
country-side home, decorated for the Holiday

Today is Chinese New Year’s Eve.  The last day of “Year of the Tiger” and “Year of the Rabbit” is hopping in. 

This is my 9th Chinese New Year in China….wow, just typing that makes me realize how long I’ve been here.  I’ve lived in China for almost 1/3 of my life.

Chinese New Year is a great time of year.  Many folks consider it the equivalent to Christmas time in the Western hemisphere.  Having spent time in both holiday seasons, I would say “yes and no” to that.   But perhaps that’s a different blog…. For now, want to highlight things to like about Chinese New Year.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Chinese New Year Build-Up

For all practical purposes, it’s here.  The Chinese New Year;  Year of the Tiger is going out with a whimper and Year of the Rabbit is coming in hopping! 

JLmade’s last day at the office was last Friday.  A good portion of our team even cut out before then.  Those last few work days; we were organizing, prioritizing and planning for the post-New Year madness – “battening down the hatches” before the storm of yearly relaxation, you might say.   

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Artwork Hijinks with the Factory

This happens frequently.  In manufacturing branded promo and gift items;  factories have “trouble” in dealing with the artwork. 
Visit When Possible: check Pantone #'s,
films, application
Most folks working in the factories are not proficient in the software.  In general, they are not proficient in computer use.  These areas of lack, without the proper control, reflect in the branding of your item, which can lead to delays, more cost and, worse case, receiving incorrect goods. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Communication Decreases Quality Issues

Your supplier may be helping you "in letter"
but dangerous when not "in spirit"
Working in China with a team that is daily handling factories, it is hard for me to fathom how companies, in different time zones, in a different language, do it from abroad.

JLmade is made up of mostly Chinese teammates. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Before & After Chinese New Year: Manufacturing Talking Pts.

Talking points atmosphere “out East” from JLmade’s perspective; focusing on the promo and retail industries.  

Labor Scarcity / Sourcing / Be Selective in your Projects

Holiday approaching & these folks have more
on their mind than just your low-cost merchandise

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Breakdown on Trade Companies_ the Bad and the Ugly

This is Part II.  Part I covered “the Good”.  Notice these are not blanket statements about trade companies but comparing the Good vs. the Bad and a bit of focus on the ugly.  Because it can get ugly…and ordering offshore isn’t like putting coins into a vending machine, it takes serious effort.  Now to resume our regularly scheduled broadcast… 

Companies will promise the world'll get more than you bargained for
The Bad: Many trade companies are not very specialized in one area.  They fail to maintain strong contacts with their factories.  Your order risks being outsourced every time afresh, to a factory they haven’t dealt with in the past.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Breakdown on Trade Companies_ The Good

Good Trade Companies: Better than Working Factory Direct

Vendors in the overseas promo industry, whether in USA, UK, Australia, S. Africa, when buying from China, they normally buy from a trade company.  Many people label these types of companies as traders, brokers or agents.  Technically there is a difference in the 3 terms and this article is primarily focused on trade companies. 

My weathered opinion is if you are an overseas supplier or distributor in the promo industry and you want a solid China contact, then you need to rely on the trade companies.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Retro Suzhou: Suzhou from the 1980’s

Leeds and I returned to the Jiangsu Province and moved to Suzhou at the end of 2007.  We’ve lived and worked in Suzhou since.  When I first moved to China in 2001, I started out in the Jiangsu Province (Nanjing).  After living in Guangdong’s Province (Dongguan City), for 3 ½ years, we were very happy to return to Jiangsu.

Leeds is originally from Jiangsu, I started out in Jiangsu and our family all lives in Jiangsu (Jiangyan and Hai’an, about 2 hours from Suzhou).  We’re blessed to be back home.

Utilizing the Canals (this photo is not retro but a good opener)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Know What’s Happening with Your Order

Typical Holiday Door Coverings

Chinese New Year:  for all practical purposes it’s here if not knocking on the door. 

We had an order to be rushed out, ahead of schedule because the workers were hurrying to rush home.  I don’t blame them.  The workers in factories, for the most part, work very hard for very low pay.  This is the time of year, they want to kick back, go to their hometown and slip away to a time period that was simpler, easier… They spend time with family, play cards, share memories with loved ones and for 20+ days forget about production lines, money issues and the obstacles they encounter day-to-day. Most of them have the basic goal of providing for their families that are usually in a distant city.    

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Factory Communication 101: Read, Analyze, Feedback

If pics from factory not presentable to your customer (like this one):
instruct factory on what you need to see
I noticed a key cause to a lot of production problems.  It may not be a root cause, but a cause nonetheless.  An avoidable cause at that. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Who’s Controlling Your Supplier’s Supplier?

Imagine:  there are a total of 3 suppliers providing input into your offshore project. 

Color Mixing is Sensitive: Good to be on-hand
to assure proper matching
Your supplier is only…let’s say…assembling the item.  He’s buying the material from a material vendor (dyed and specified to pantone color) and print isn’t done in-house.

The delivery time is urgent and quality, of course, is important.  You’ve hashed that out with your supplier, you’ve seen samples, and confirmed them and now ready to go with production.  You feel like your supplier has a clear understanding on the important issues and will tightly control the production time and adhere to delivery requirements.  

Then you hear one of the following phrases or receive an email with one of these phrases…

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Bridge Building: Establishing Long-term Relationships with your Supplier

(This was a very popular post this month - do me a favor and visit at the new house: - hope to see you there!)
There's Folks Working Hard on Your Behalf:
Allow Them to Become a Valuable Partner to your Business

Everybody is a supplier to somebody and everybody is a buyer to another.  Seldom does a supplier never purchase something (whether components, machinery, material) and most buyers buy because they then resell. 

Use your communication with your supplier to establish strong bonds. 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Inspiration and Motivation is the Key…More so in China?

This morning, Leeds (wife and head honcho at JLmade) took a boot that had a buckle to pop off, to the shoe-repair shop.  When she first took it inside and presented it to the “Master” 师傅, he told her they couldn’t fix it. 
With such a large labor force in China, you interact
with many more people on a daily basis .
 She then explained to him that it only requires a small such-and-such type tool and if he’ll just look at it, then perhaps he can see what the job takes.  The guy then looked at it, spent about 5 to 7 minutes repairing it, now it’s as good as new.  Not only did he fix it, but when she went to pay, she only had 100 bank notes, so he waived the fee and graciously said “next time”. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Mullet Fish Soup: Mid-Week Lunch Dish

Normally Head's Intact: Without Head
Chinese May Feel "Cheated"
Leeds and I had mullet soup for lunch today.  中文名是乌鱼汤。  我们平常这样吃一碗汤, 两份菜, 一份肉, 什么的

We normally have a soup everyday along with 2 veggies and a meat.  Our apartment is only about 5 mins from the office so we swing home for lunch.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Due-Diligence: Developing a Product Offshore (Info, Material, Price)

Don't Expect Factory to do Research, Legwork
~ Do in Planning Stages

Here’s a list of basic steps in sourcing a customized item or developing a non-existing product.  This stuff is very basic but easy to overlook and with the frequency I see overseas importers/buyers not do this, you would think it’s rocket science.

 Keep in mind non-existing could mean an item the factory doesn’t currently produce (non-existing to the factory’s capabilities) and for them it will be a first-time run.  Also this could mean tweaking an existing product but requiring quite a bit of change, creativity and design legwork. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Dealing with 1st-Time Factories

Remain professional: regardless of what
unforeseen obstacle arises.

Chinese factories are busy.  They have times that are slower than others, but for the most part, their production lines are full year-around.  Next to never are the production lines empty and the workers sitting around hoping to get an order to extinguish the boredom.

On the contrary it has gotten to where it takes substantial effort from the buyers’ side to get a factory to treat them serious.  Unless you have an established working relationship with the factory or unless you’re a very big name, the factory is going to first “feel you out”.   But, in this post-Economic Crisis day and age, even if you are a big name, the factory is still going to work in such a way to determine if you are going to be a valuable customer for them.