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.

Tons of people waiting in line:  I always say, “Going to the bank in China?  Be sure to take a book”.  There is no such thing as “in and out” in this country.  Running in to the bank for a quickie transaction is a myth.  When you go in, you take a number and you wait, wait, and wait. 

Manufacturing is the same way here.  The production lines are full.  Seldom is a factory sitting around, playing mahjong.  Once you are ready to go in to production, doesn’t mean the factory is ready;  they’ve got to schedule you

Folks overseas tend to have the attitude “why isn’t this done faster?”  A basic banking transaction, with any kind of fluidity to it, is impossible.  Why would a much less organized and structured facility like a low-cost manufacturer be any quicker? 

Inefficiency: Each process has many rubberstamps, slips of paper, and a ton of signatures.  With the amount of paperwork for the most basic transaction while the teller wields that rubberstamp; you’d forget it’s the year 2011. 

It’s same with many vendors; multiple emails, multiple ways of explaining things and a few trips “back to the drawing board”.  When you are product sourcing from abroad, you may wait a whole 24-hour period for the vendor to tell you “I don’t think we received your email, please send again and maybe we’ll receive tomorrow”.  You wait 48 hours for wrong answers.

And just rushing the teller at the window, if you rush your vendor for a quote, a sample, or to kick the schedule in to high gear, you can bet your bottom dollar, you’ll get results that are chocked full of mistakes. 

Multitude of staffing and workers:  A key ingredient to the efficiency level is the multitude of workers.  The teller doesn’t have any real sway and her range of responsibility is limited.  She can seldom close the transaction without the older, office manager walking by with the card around her neck and making the final “swipe” or checking paperwork and using the bigger, more official rubber stamp.

When sourcing promotional products from China, you typically deal with a “new China” salesperson;  kids in their mid-20’s and they’ve got about as much authority as that teller at the bank.  They will tell you “no” on things they could check about and approve but are too timid to rock the boat.  On the flip side, they will fling you a “yes” when they have no ability to confirm and implement their positive answer.

At the bank you generally have to deal with the one teller for your business.  If you have Chinese-speaking ability in your company, endeavor to have more than one contact in the supplying company.  It’s great when that other contact is someone who is higher up and in a different departmental role (manager or engineer on the production line).   This increases the range of communication which can in turn increase your ability to "stick and move" and get things done.  

Talking through a big hunk a' glass:  Finally the communication is blurred.  It’s muffled and doesn’t have a real crisp sound to it.  That’s because at the banks in China, you’re talking through a big hunk of glass. 

Because of cultural, language and thinking differences, sourcing from abroad can have a cloudy and muffled feel to it.  Most communication is electronic and probably in a language that is the supplier's 2nd and could very well likely be your 2nd, depending where you’re from.  You can tell they understand on a surface level, but there’s just something that shows all points aren’t “clicking”. 

The things you say to your vendor, you think are clear enough, but cross-culturally, how to define “something trendy” or “his/her sets”.  Those points will get skipped over all together when your vendor is taking in to account your quote or the material to purchase.  Avoid any kind of phrase, expression or cutesy saying.

Otherwise, in your frustration, just like at the bank, you’ll need to lean up to those air slits and start talking louder..but hurry up, there’s a lot of people waiting in line.  

Happy Banking…..     

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