How to find the best Chinese suppliers: The Epic process and the changing face of sourcing

TK Wang

On the Epic blog, we talk a lot about the importance of finding the right Chinese supplier. It really can make or break your sourcing adventure. Do it right and you’ll set yourself up for long-term success. Don’t, and you could end up with a headache no small business wants to deal with. 


We’ve written a lot about the 'How to…' of finding the right supplier, but what better way to show you the process, than to detail exactly what we do at Epic Sourcing. We’ve been doing this sourcing biz for a long time and we’ve dialled in a process that’s watertight.

The good old days

Back in the good old days, finding a supplier in China was no easy feat. You would either have to engage a China-based agent or visit the country yourself (visit trade fairs, talk to factories etc…). Making the trip is of course a worthwhile endeavour, but the reality is that it’s not possible for many small businesses (especially in 2021!).

Then along came the B2B marketplaces like Alibaba or Global Sources, and everything changed. This new model has put businesses just a click away from a nearly endless selection of suppliers and manufacturers in low-cost regions like China. Easy. Peasy. Or is it? 

Having worked as a sourcing agent for small businesses for many years, what is the number 1 problem reported by our clients? 

U n c e r t a i n t y ? ? ? ? ? ? 

Yes, the process of finding suppliers has been streamlined, but the uncertainty for businesses remains. Having a seemingly infinite number of options at your fingertips can leave businesses feeling like they are drowning in options, unable to filter out the wheat from the chaff.  Sourcing can be a bit like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.

Where there is an online marketplace like Alibaba, and big money is involved, people will find ways to exploit it. Wading through the undesirables, the amateurs, the middlemen/ women, and the fraudsters can be quite the task. 

The digital distance may have shrunk, but issues around trust and reliability remain. Same problems, just online. And when you’re a small business with precious resources (namely time and money), there has to be a better way.

Removing the uncertainty from supplier prospecting is at the core of the service we offer at Epic. This is where we’ve built our niche; in helping small businesses leap-frog the competition and avoid the considerable hassle and uncertainty of finding top-quality suppliers in China. We know sourcing. We know China. And we know how to find you the right supplier for your business.

Our Process: What makes Epic different

So, let’s break down the process we use to find our clients the best suppliers.

Step 1: Understanding your business

Step 2: Angle of approach

Step 3: Networking

Step 4: Building the master supplier list

Step 5: Verifying suppliers

Step 6: Contacting suppliers

Step 7: Selecting your ideal supplier

Step 8: Ordering samples

Step 9: Negotiating the contact

Step 1: Understanding your business

The process always starts with getting to know you, your company, and your product. The better we can do that, the more effectively we can find a supplier that aligns with your goals. Step 1 breaks down into 3 components.

Questionnaire

To get the ball rolling, we’ll have you fill out our questionnaire. This provides us with some basic information about your business. You can take a look at the questionnaire here. By all means, fill it out if you want!

Consultation

Once you’ve filled out the questionnaire we’ll contact you to organise an initial consultation. Nothing beats sitting down and meeting in person, but this can also be done via email, phone, or Zoom if you’re not in Auckland.

Homework

Armed with a good understanding of your business, product, and goals, I can start doing my homework to build a framework for finding the right supplier.


Step 2: Angle of approach

Sourcing can broadly be broken down into 3 categories. The process of finding you the perfect supplier will depend on which category your business falls into.

White label sourcing

White labeling or white label sourcing is the process of importing an existing product, adding your branding (colour, logo, etc), and selling it to your chosen market. 

Let’s say you’ve seen a very cool eco-friendly travel mug that feels lovely in the hand. Not only do you want to own one of these, but you also wonder if you could add something similar to your boutique range of reusable camping equipment. Well, you can. White label it.

With the rise of B2B sites like Alibaba, this method has exploded in the last decade and is the primary way in which people are building eCommerce businesses in 2021. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel and spend $1,000s on designing, testing, prototyping, and sampling. The wheel has already been invented, so slap your logo on it and build a business around selling it. For tips on how to find top suppliers of white label products on Alibaba, check out our step-by-step guide here.


Reverse Sourcing

This is a fun one. Put simply, Reverse Sourcing involves identifying a competitor's product you’re interested in, and finding out who their supplier is. If you’ve ever seen another brand selling a cool product and wondered “who made that?!” Then Reverse Sourcing is for you.

Two big problems with traditional sourcing have always been: 

  • Is this supplier reliable?
  • Do they supply quality products?

In addition, the traditional sourcing strategy can be very time consuming as you have to filter through all the suppliers and evaluate their products’ quality and the factory’s trustworthiness. With Reverse Sourcing, reliability and quality are assured and you’ve saved yourself a lot of time.

One of the reasons why reliability is assured with Reverse Sourcing is that you’re dealing with suppliers that have already passed rigorous quality checks from the finest brands that we all know and love. So if you’re sourcing a similar product, you know you’re sourcing from the best.

Reverse Sourcing is a strategy that relies on the use of specific tools. At Epic Sourcing, our team uses big data tools and techniques to dig for the most sought-after and first-rate suppliers. The team literally calls it the “factory digging” process. 

If you’re building a business then you’re probably accustomed to a bit of competition. From a sourcing point of view, the tools and techniques we employ when Reverse Sourcing can be a powerful source of competitive advantage. It’s the fastest way to find reliable suppliers that you know can produce quality products. It’s a shortcut of sorts, and a way to establish who the best suppliers are in a particular industry.


Original Idea Manufacturing

If you’ve dreamt up a brand spanking new product, your sourcing journey will take a different route. 

Original Equipment Manufacturing (OEM) refers to the process of designing a product from scratch and licensing the production of that product to a 3rd party (i.e. a manufacturer in China). There are more steps and extra costs involved in this process, but it’s also an incredibly rewarding process bringing an original product to life. We’ll be detailing the OEM manufacturing process in more depth in an upcoming post, but from a supplier prospecting perspective, the goal remains the same; find the best manufacturers. Which is what we do best.

Step 3: Networking

Over the years we have built up a network of trusted, high-quality suppliers across many industries. Our search for your ideal supplier always starts within this network.

A common misconception people have about using B2B sites like Alibaba is that all of the best suppliers can be found on these platforms. They can’t. There is a lot of work involved for a supplier listed on Alibaba and wading through the mountain of requests (many of which don’t lead to business) is something many suppliers won’t or can’t deal with (hence the rise of the middle person).

Many top-rated Chinese suppliers that serve leading global brands work with long-term clients and rely on repeat business or other means of attracting high-quality customers. Just like you are looking for the best supplier, they are looking for the best customers, and those customers aren’t necessarily found on Alibaba.

This is where a top sourcing agent or agency shines, and it’s one of the most important ways in which we set ourselves apart from ‘DIY Alibaba style’ sourcing.

Step 4: Building the master supplier list

We can now start building the initial list of prospects. Suppliers come in different shapes and sizes, with strengths and weaknesses that need to be assessed according to your needs.

We’ll discuss which of these suppliers look like the right fit for you, and whittle down the numbers to create a tidy shortlist. Once we have created a tight shortlist, we can start the process of verification.

Step 5: Verifying suppliers

So, how does a supplier pass the Epic test? We only work with the best and our verification process reflects that commitment. Transparency is key, and we want to know exactly who we (and you!) are working with. 

We collect a range of information about suppliers to create a clear picture of who we are working with. As a sourcing agent, I have access to the Chinese government database, which is a goldmine of relevant company information. 

Our background check covers:

  • General company information
  • Years of establishment
  • Business scope
  • Type of enterprise (manufacturer, trading company, middle person, etc)
  • Certification
  • Any historic or current legal proceedings


Step 6: Contacting suppliers

Armed with a tidy list of verified suitors, we can then start making contact to obtain more detailed information. We know exactly how to communicate with suppliers (and of course can do so in Chinese).

We will gather specific details on:

  • Product specs
  • Pricing
  • MOQ (minimum order quantity)
  • Contract terms
  • Delivery times
  • Packaging and labelling

We will also collect brochures from suppliers where possible. All of this information is then compiled in our supplier prospecting spreadsheet. This enables us to compare suppliers, and weigh up the pros and cons of each.

Step 7: Selecting your ideal supplier

Now that we have a verified supplier shortlist, it’s time to make a decision. I will help you work through the list to assess which supplier is the right fit for you. 

Step 8: Ordering samples

Depending on the assessment process, you may end up with multiple suppliers from whom you want to get samples. Getting samples from different suppliers is a great way to ascertain which suppliers meet the quality standards you are looking for.  

Offices in New Zealand and China

Another way Epic Sourcing looks to streamline the process for clients is by collecting all of your samples (from various supplies) at our China office and sending them off together. Not only does this speed up the process, but it saves you money too. 

I will receive your samples at my office in Auckland and deliver them to you. I like to deliver items in-person to discuss quality, but if this isn’t possible I can simply send the products to you.

Step 9: Negotiating the contract

One of the most important parts of the sourcing process is of course the negotiation. Effective negotiation is vital when doing business in China, and having someone on your side with experience can make a huge difference. We’ll help you negotiate the best terms possible, so you can source with confidence.

“But the cost - I can do this for free!”

Can you negotiate a better deal than we can? If you’re not saving more than your spending using our services, we’re not doing our job properly.

Step 10: High fives all around

Now that you have a top-quality, verified supplier to work with, your sourcing journey is well and truly underway. It’s time to place your first order!


As always, if you have any questions or want to have a chat about anything sourcing related, we offer a FREE initial consultation. You can book one in right here.

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