Perhaps in the 21st Century we are so accustomed to buying commodity items off the shelf that we no longer think about any product in its raw state.

Do we associate meat with an animal, or cotton T-shirts with a plant? Probably not.

This holds true for the promotional product industry, where customers may not understand the time required for the complex processes involved. In turn, this can limit product creativity and result in a lack of bespoke ideas being offered to the end user.

In a world requiring instant responses and recognition, we need to educate the end users and the premiums industry that China, where many products are manufactured, does not hold their product, branded or unbranded, on a shelf just waiting to be bought.

Instead, China has suppliers of raw materials who supply to manufacturers, all awaiting guidance on what the buyers would like to procure.

The right questions

Sourcing is a simple word for an incredibly complex engagement, one which can be fraught with issues if potential problems are not pre-empted. Take the starting point of design.

Did the designer check the product can be made from a technical point of view? Have they considered budget requirements, safety, and timelines? I am convinced that vast sums of money are wasted paying agency fees when the agency has no comprehension of the questions they should be asking, or worse still no duty of care to ask.

With the design done, or the brief completed, a more detailed picture of the enquiry is required, including such information as the timeline required, the level of audit the factory has to have, which three factories to go to, and testing and QC requirements, before approaching merchandisers or factories, normally both, to ensure we are safe guarding your enquiry as much as possible.

Some times a client will send this over at4pm expecting we can just call the ‘big Chinese superstore’ for a landed price back by 5pm.

It just doesn’t work like this.

Build in time

Early starts in the UK frequently allow us to work with China in live time in order to quote within 24 hours for a straightforward item. However, the timezone difference means we are pushing our team or our trusted factories to price everything on the same day, which isn’t ideal if they are to be under less pressure and will quote accurately.

If the enquiry has items from different categories with different quantity requirements, we can be going to more than 20 factories, and then working out all the volumes and duty rates for each item and each quantity, in order to quote one price.

There isn’t an automated way to do this as every single quoted item is different in its size, print requirement, quantity, duty rate, packing specification and timeline.Suppliers who know a little can end up quoting an end price without real accuracy paid to each of these points.

If any one of the above areas is incorrect, it can massively affect the end price or mean corners are cut, such as using unaudited factories, resulting in inferior quality products.

If the industry starts to understand the complexity of sourcing, and sees its true challenges we can work together to encourage China’s manufacturers to respect the audits we ask for, to ensure social standards continue to matter and that pricing is fair. Brands can then spend their marketing budgets on items which send the right message.

Experience counts

Sourcing should not be confused with shopping. You can shop from a catalogue, but you don’t really need a professional sourcing company for that. When it comes to the complexity of sourcing and supplying from scratch, it pays to work with a company that has the experience and relationships to deliver products that make your brand stand out.

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