What do most designers get wrong about supply chain management when they try to get their product/s made in Shenzhen?

Most of the people don ‘t come to Shenzhen to meet business partners but to buy stuff at the lowest prices. Most of the time, they end up with the very cheap service they asked for.

Many people arrive in Shenzhen knowing exactly what they are looking for. They have a design already and think some factories can magically execute for very small amount of money. They usually end up with something completely different of what they asked for. The reason is : they didn ‘t take the time to figure out what the factory was really able to deliver when they discussed in the first place.

The best process is to meet people you like, see what they can deliver and then work together to get as close as possible from your original idea. You can not just plan everything online and submit to a factory. You may need to train the factory guys on some specific tech you use but they will usually be eager to learn. Most Chinese have very high regard of someone who share knowledge and they will be thankful for your efforts.

Some common mistakes - and a few advices to avoid them :

  • Anticipate problems : working with factories implies that you have to follow very closely the deliveries. When problems arise in China, you better have good relationship with the boss if you want anything fixed. To scream at the phone or send email is useless. Think about that before you negotiate, not after.
  • Meet like-minded people or change your mind : Go where you can find like-minded people. If you think they don ‘t exist in Shenzhen, then change your mind until you can find them. For instance, there is often nothing to be found in wholesale markets like Huaqiangbei, except complications. Those are aimed at local people mostly. If you don ‘t have close friends or family working there, just enjoy the look of the place and go somewhere else to get actual things done.
  • Less paperwork is okay : Many people will spend unrealistic amount of time and money on talking about IP protection, NDA and other legal issues with factory managers. You are wasting everybody ‘s time here. Most Chinese will silently comply to this process but you look more trustful by not making the other part sign to much stuff. Nothing will protect your product from being copied if it is successful anyway. Just accept it, prefer secrecy to naive paperwork and design your supply chain accordingly. If you really need to protect some design parts, just don ‘t make them in Shenzhen or China.
  • Use chat, not email : people in China don ‘t use emails. Learn to use chat services like qq and weixin, talk on the phone, meet people and stop complaining about this unanswered email that took you 2h to write. Nobody read it anyway
  • Do your homework before blaiming suppliers: a good  example is export certifications. Start by understanding the specific regulations so you will be sure of what you exactly need during the discussions later. Many people trust the supplier that say “this is US ok “ and regret it afterwards.

All those points could be sum up into a single one : the most common mistake of designers in Shenzhen is to think that their money and ideas are so valuable. You actually need to know and understand the people and the place you work with to deliver something of quality at the end.

This text was originally published in quora.

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