In the same way as there is a link between the quality of a fishing spot and its remoteness; there is also a direct relation between the ease of access to a supplier and the competitiveness of his price.
Twenty years of sourcing fishing tackle have taken me to very remote places while searching for that special item to give my brand its competitive edge.
Before you go out of your way to visit a new factory, you should however attempt to gather some information about what you may possibly encounter. This often requires the help of a sourcing agent or a trader who has been doing his homework. You may otherwise end-up in the middle of nowhere, after a lengthy flight to a remote airport and a risky drive to an out-of-the-way factory. I must confess, this has happened to me many times! Prospecting for potential sources is a must for an importing company that aims to stay in the lead and unless you speak the local dialect you are totally in the hands of your hosts and your guide or your agent.
It is therefore extremely important to work on that special relation and leave a good impression during the short duration of a factory visit.
Here are a few guidelines to more successful sourcing in remote areas: (Assuming you do not speak the language of the supplier whom you are visiting, you will be using your agent as a translator for the meeting.)
Do not let your agent and the supplier converse too lengthily on their own; they are not there to catch up on old times but to do business with you.
- Once you have been served the customary tea or coffee; make a brief illustrated presentation of your company. This will allow the supplier to estimate your potential and treat you seriously.
- Ask to visit the factory floor and don’t hesitate to snoop about. This will allow you, the potential buyer to scrutinize the production procedures and estimate the quality and professionalism of the supplier. The factory visit will also let you see some of the current production; it will also indicate whether the factory is busy or begging for orders. You may also see some interesting items currently produced. Don’t hesitate to pick anything interesting items and bring them back to the meeting room.
- Sample rooms, where meetings are usually held, can tell you a lot about the potential supplier. I for myself prefer to see a room full of old and dusty unbranded prototypes rather than a room full of the best-sellers of the factory with a show-all-to-all policy. Of course, your own preference may depend on whether you are a market innovator or a me-too photocopier!
- Once you have encountered interesting product, you will need to obtain the best price from the supplier. Experience and market knowledge play a large part in obtaining the right price for your market. I always try to request the true price of the product. The true price of a product is the price that satisfies both the supplier and the buyer. The supplier should be guided into giving you a fair price, one that leaves him with a suitable profit ensuring company growth. Once you have convinced the supplier that quoting you the fair price will ensure market success and a long commercial life, further development will be made on a much more collaborative basis.
Once a meeting is over or if there is time for a lunch break, the supplier will generally invite you to his local favourite restaurant. In a remote spot, this may often turn out to be quite an adventure for a westerner or a non-Asian buyer.
The visit to a supplier’s factory is a very important event in the future relationship your company may establish with this source. You may not have an opportunity to visit him again for a long period of time; it is of strategic importance that you use all the available time for establishing the best possible relation with your supplier, get to know him and allow him to know and evaluate you. Suppliers from remote areas do not often get visits from westerners. They may be very interested in discovering your reaction to their culture and their specialities. They will often take you to a good local restaurant and delight in contributing to your knowledge in typical cuisine. They may even wish to test you for their great enjoyment. Playing along with this game in a manner that will help to strengthen the relation is a continuum of the business meeting.
I, for myself, go by the following simple rule:
If they eat it; so can I!
(I do not include raw shellfish in this rule as differences in the tolerances to local micro-organisms may cause some violent reactions to your stomach.)
Following this rule has led me to feeding my way through banquets of worms, insects and snakes all over Asia and particularly in China where the rule has always been:
“If it has its back turned towards the sun, it may be eaten!”
I personally find that food in Asia is much easier to digest than European food and so do not develop a need for a Big Mac even during a lengthy trip.
Instead, I find that communication is always improved once you have passed the test and enjoyed your meal with your supplier and commended him on the taste of the dishes served.
I always hear about other buyers who can only eat western food and refuse anything local and I say: What a waste!
The accumulation of knowledge through the discovery of cultures is one of the most fulfilling experiences in life.
I have also never had a really good western meal in Asia, and I much prefer to stick to the local specialities to which I look forward to on each of my journeys.
Louis Tchertoff 2007-11-25