One of my clients systematically controls every shipment upon arrival in their warehouse. So they have a lady who has been doing this full-time for more than 10 years. They have honed a procedure for her work, little by little. It is based more on experience and “feeling” than on any sort of logic. The problem is, it’s all in their minds… Nothing is written.
They have started sourcing from China 4 years ago. The first season, they wanted to do things their own way, so they sent some of their employees in factories. But these people didn’t even speak good English, and they required lots of compensation holidays (did I say they are French?).
For the second season, they looked for someone to help them as an on-site service provider. That’s where I came in the picture. I quickly noticed that many things they required were pretty unique. And, of course, over time I was given contradictory instructions.
I pointed it out to them, and every time they said it was a misunderstanding. They never gave me anything written. On my side I drafted an “unofficial” procedure, to give some guidance to my staff.
Until the day one of their large suppliers started contesting the way we reached conclusions for our inspections—and I have to admit they had a point—and the client said “it’s our standard procedure”. Of course, the supplier asked to see that procedure. Nothing was sent out.
Quality problems were alarmingly recurrent and important in their factory, but every time they said “we’ll do better next time, we’ll do our best, we promise”, and they used the procedure issue to switch the subject of conversation.
Then the purchaser and the QC manager (of my client) came to the factory. They started explaining the way they want inspections to be done.
The problem is, the QC manager has a very deep product knowledge, but absolutely no training in statistics (this is pretty common, unfortunately). She started arguing for her vision in an unstructured and illogical way. She knows no English, so I was translating everything—and the supplier basically heard it from my mouth, even though I disagreed with what she was saying…
To make matters worse, the supplier’s merchandiser was asking the hard questions.
It was a disaster. My client could feel the supplier would keep pushing until they got a real procedure to work with.
The QC manager promised to write something up. And, of course, she held on some of the nonsense she had been saying. She changed a few thing, though, and inspections ended up being more severe than with the old, unofficial procedure.
To be fair to my client, the supplier also said a lot of incoherent things. They had no understanding of statistics, and on top of that they had no product knowledge. They were accusing us of counting defects where they saw no problem, but the client supported us strongly. As if that were not enough, when the merchandiser described how her factory controls quality by itself, I asked to see records about a past production—not surprisingly, nothing could be found.
What is the takeaway for importers?
If you want things to get done in a unique way, you should write your own procedure. You should get in touch with a QC professional and go over all the important points. Oftentimes, what you do in your warehouse or in other countries should be adapted for pre-shipment inspections in China.
And above all, do not count on your suppliers for help in putting a QC system in place. They don’t perceive it as being in their interest, and 98% of them will be misleading—either willingly or by ignorance.