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…

“Where still waiting on the material to arrive”

“The print factory is very busy, sorry”

“The print factory didn’t control the quality”

“We received the material, the color is a little different, but as you know, this is hard to control”  (as you open the jpg photos, you see the color is very different!) 

Here’s my question:  your supplier may care about your order and delivery time, but what makes you think the other suppliers do? 

Who’s controlling them?

When JLmade first started in 2004, we “played with that snake” only a few times until we got tired of “being bit.”

Eventually we learned to absolutely know and control who the 3rd party vendor is.  So during an order, JLmade is controlling our supplier’s supplier, as much as we’re controlling the supplier.

Recently, JLmade successfully handled a job that had 6 companies input into one product!   

Not their responsibility: 

Keep in mind;  although your supplier is perhaps loyal to you, they’re only going to principally focus on the work that falls under their umbrella of responsibility.   They don’t see the mistakes and misfortunes of the outside supplier as something they can fully control.  “Hey whaddya expect, I’m only human” is the prevailing attitude. 

Don’t want to come across as picky: 

Even a portion of the Chinese attitude extends so far to think:  if they controlled their partner-factory, they’d be showing their partner factory that they don’t trust them and this is bad for the relationship.

I’ve heard cases where factory #1 wouldn’t QC pieces from factory #2 because that would ruin the relationship! 

Price is always a factor: 

Most problems are a result of price.  Either the factory is trying to save, or the factory is trying to cut costs, or the factory is trying to save, or the factory is trying to cut costs… I realize I was repeating myself there…  (also a reminder to be sure not to muscle factories down on price…you’ll get more than you bargained for).

Best Case: Visit Factory & Watch First-Hand Production Runs
Whenever there are 3 party vendors and you leave it up to your supplier to outsource, it is very possible they choose a lower-end supplier.  Your supplier wants to save money on the back-end and this can result in slower production rate (ie 3rd party vendor won’t prioritize something on which they’re not making money) and also results in poor quality (print, components, embroidery, etc…)


When you were communicating with your factory on the importance of the quality and the delivery time, your contact person fully understood and fully agreed.  He was even saying “yeah yeah yeah” multiple times.  But, from you to your supplier is as far as the info went. 

It never went out of his or her mouth to the partner-factories.  It never went out of his or her brain, down on an email/chat room/QQ to send over to the partner-factory. 

They cared, just didn’t communicate it.  This happens quite a bit in China:  normal life up to business life.  Communication can be a sticky thing and sometimes, key points get axed off because someone felt it just wasn’t necessary to relay or your contact person wasn’t authoritative enough with the 3rd party factory….but that’s a whole other blog.

Going to cut this blog off now:  just laying out the rhetorical question to make you, the importer think:  you’re doing a big job offshore, includes more than 1 vendor /production facility.  Put forth extra effort to assure those other vendors or suppliers are controlled.  Put extra focus on what’s not done, in-house, with your direct factory contact. 

Feel free to comment;  how do you control this or do you just work with awesome suppliers and never see a need for controlling it?  Share, educate, argue…let’s see what you think, thanks. 

Related Posts:  click on the title below for similar rants

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