After making your decision about which supplier to contract with, order your product samples but plan to evaluate them after you return home.
Sample preparation, depending on which kind of products you want to import, can take considerable time. Contrary to what many people think, factories usually do not keep samples in their warehouse that can be sent right away. The more complicated a product is (for instance home appliances or consumer electronics products) the longer it will take and the more diligence needed from the factory to prepare the samples according to your specific requirements.
You have reached a turning point in your own quality control. The first step was your scrutiny of each supplier visited during the trip. You should have a good idea how each supplier will perform and how talented their management is.
Providing them with detailed information about your sample requirements could become the key to your success. Why is this so important?
When the Sample is Wrong
Imagine that you did not pay adequate attention to instructing the supplier about your sample requirements and they prepare the sample according their own factory standards. As mentioned before, timing is important and you need the samples checked for compliance with your requirements in your home country. It needs to be right the first time.
If the first sample is incorrect, you could take a risk and place your order in hopes that the supplier will get it right the second time. It is not a good idea to take this risk because there cannot be a guarantee that the supplier will actually follow your new instructions.
It is best to ask the supplier to manufacture new samples. Time starts to become an issue as you wait for new samples to be made and it will take 3-7 days delivery time to ship them to your home country. Add everything up and you have possibly lost a month. This could be crucial if your goal is to be among the first to promote the new products in your home market.
Never place any order with new suppliers before you receive acceptable samples with the proper quality and your QC people, or an authorized lab, has approved them. Anything else is a gamble and you do not want to begin production with that level of risk. Only after establishing a sound business relationship with your suppliers can you be confident the factory will closely follow your instructions. It is important to set things right from the very beginning.
Have Samples Properly Packaged
When asking for samples, be sure to request they be packaged according to your specifications. This should be the same packaging the end consumer receives. At this point, they should workout the details to determine how many pieces fit into one 20’ or 40’ ocean-going container. Along with this, comes the details of how many fit into one export carton and if any inner packing needs to go into the export carton.
With this information, you can calculate the freight cost. It may be necessary to change the sales packaging size in order to fit more pieces into one container and save substantial freight charges. It makes a big difference if you can pack 1,400 coffeemakers in a 40’ container instead of only 1,200 pieces and it will certainly affect your selling price.
Samples are seldom free, which is understandable because they are handmade and very labor intensive. Even simple plastic products, the supplier has to follow your instructions and injection mold them in a certain color, which is very time consuming because the plastic injection machines are usually running at full capacity and the injection is limited to one color at a time. If you ask for several different color samples, they can only make them when they have production in the requested color. Naturally, this increases the time it takes to receive the samples.
An alternative is painting the samples, but the surface of a spray painted object looks different from an injected one and may mislead you into approving something that later proves to be less than perfect.
Order Plenty of Samples
Do not make the error of ordering a single sample per product/color because you need reference samples for several purposes. Common sample needs include:
- Samples for your showroom
- Samples for lab testing
- Samples for photo shooting and gift box preparation
- Samples for your inspection company
- Samples for your sales managers to show to customers
That is only the beginning of a long list and believe me, large buying offices like hypermarkets, department stores, and other large volume importers ask for even more samples because they are aware of this when introducing a new product.
The worst-case scenario is if you give the only color reference sample to a key customer and after they place an order with you, you cannot determine which specific color to instruct the factory to begin with. It is a good idea to always keep one or more samples per color locked up in a safe place to avoid embarrassing errors. Due to the limited storage space, suppliers may not keep their reference samples at all after completing production.
You now have the information to better understand why suppliers are reluctant to provide free samples to new customers. In many cases, you can convince the supplier to refund the sample costs after you reach a certain order volume. It is good business to negotiate this in the beginning.
Besides the sample charges, you will be asked to pay the freight charges for the sample delivery. This can get expensive because samples are usually sent by air courier in order to make up lost time and stay on schedule. Suppliers do not want to pay these charges and it is often difficult to convince them to do so. If they do, it is usually only after a successful business relationship has been established. If you need the samples urgently, and that is usually the case, you are better advised to look for a compromise, otherwise you may lose the competitive timing edge in your home market.