Reaching out to multiple suppliers and discussing your expectations with them should leave you with a short-list of potential supplier with whom you want to work with. These will be suppliers that you think can offer the goods you require at a reasonable price while meeting your quality & deadline expectations.
The problem with this list of potentials is that most of the information on which it is based comes from the suppliers, it is not verified. That is why properly examining your potential suppliers are to investigate the supplier on the site and review the products they claim that they can deliver.
You should analyze suppliers evaluating their entire facilities
There is no better way to get an idea of a provider’s capabilities than to see them in first-hand work.
Most of the importers choose to travel directly to the facilities of their suppliers and meet them there. Meeting with potential providers in person brings some benefits like:
- If you understand what to look for, you can easily gather a lot of information during your visit that’ll help you qualify the potential provider.
- You have the opportunity to create a close relationship with your supplier from the beginning.
- You can review your needs with the relevant people in great detail in order to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Note: You may need an interpreter if you cannot speak their local language. A vendor’s salespeople generally speak English well, but factory production managers often do not.
- And if you time your meetings wisely, you can easily meet with most or all the suppliers on your shortlist on the same trip.
In spite of these advantages, visiting suppliers in-person in order to evaluate them is not for everyone. Depending on your experience and the location and number of the suppliers you plan to visit, doing so can be ineffective and costly.
That’s where hiring a third party inspection service company can be a good alternative.
Supplier qualification audits
Some importers feel more comfortable hiring a professional auditor in order to investigate their potential suppliers. While others may feel competent doing the audit, but they find it too expensive to travel to a different place in the world just to visit 1 or 2 factories.
Often, these importers choose to send a trusted 3rd party in order to audit the potential supplier. This person could be a friend who is close to those facilities. Or it could be a professional local factory auditing company that specializes in more formal audits.
There are several common types of factory audits services available. But the most popular thing to evaluate a possible manufacturer is a qualification audit of the supplier. Sometimes called supplier evaluation or quality systems audit, this type of audit generally polls several areas of a factory that include:
- Production capacity
- Any on-site lab testing capabilities
- Internal quality control systems
- Materials and finished goods storage
- Machine and equipment maintenance
- Relevant documentation, e.g. export license, business registration, etc.
- Recruitment and training practices
This kind of auditing report gives you a “snapshot” of this facility. It not only shows you how likely a supplier is to manufacture the defective products but also what systems they have (or lack) in order to catch and address quality problems before the final shipping.
Regardless of whether you visit the potential suppliers yourself or send someone on your behalf, evaluating their facility is a crucial step in the entire screening process.
You should review samples of goods to further authenticate quality standards
You can also learn a lot by evaluating the facilityof a supplier. Building an elaborative QC checklist and reviewing it on a regular basis with a prospective supplier is good too. Getter their buy-in and assurance that they understand and can meet your needs is even better.
But nothing can beat being able to actually hold the resulting product in your hands in order to see for yourself. Many suppliers will be happy to send the samples of your products for review, provided you cover the production as well as shipping costs.
But also keep in mind that it is not uncommon to need a variety of revisions of product samples before you arrive at a “golden” sample that meets your standards sufficiently. You could also spend valuable weeks sending samples back-and-forth for final review. Testing samples in a laboratory can also drag this out further.
As with supplier auditing, some importers will hire on-site inspection to review product samples for them. QC firms can often receive the samples in very less time than shipping overseas. They will check the samples against the specifications and any Quality Check checklist and issue you an elaborative report with findings and photos. Once you are confident in the sample that you have received, it can serve as a model for the reference during the production of goods in the factory.