Project management for importers

Supplier ManagementI have been in contact with hundreds of importers over the years. Some of them are very successful, most of them struggle to make a profit at the end of the year, and some others haven’t yet figured how to protect themselves from dishonest / incompetent suppliers.

What is the major difference between those who make money and grow, and the others? Probably the way they have organized their work.

Sourcing finished products from China or any other developing country is complex. It involves a number of tasks to be planned, and to be completed according to plan. That’s the definition of a “project”, as opposed to the “business as usual” operations that don’t need to be managed as closely.

Many of the successful importers view their job as project management. If you want to organize your workflow like a professional project manager, I wrote a list of tasks to follow below:


+ Describe the product

+ Pre-qualify supplier(s)

+ Choose a supplier

+ Manage special tooling/molds

+ Approve a “golden” sample, give comments for production

+ Issue final product specs

+ Issue PO & contract


+ Approve production samples

+ Inspection/testing during production

+ Book shipment with forwarder

+ Approve quality before shipment

+ Shipment

+ Final payment


+ Manage the documents

+ Customs clearance

+ Domestic freight

+ Warehousing

+ QC on incoming products

The above workflow is just an example, based on an imaginary order of finished products that require special tooling, that are sold under FOB terms, and that are paid by bank wire.

Is it a lot of work? Sure, it’s what I call hands-on sourcing, and it’s usually well worth the time and money investment.

Now what you can do is adapt it to your situation…

Have you got any other suggestions?