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Choosing the right supplier in China: Part 1

4 / 22 / 2019

The whole point is not to find suppliers, today everyone with an internet connection can do it. We will rather focus on how you can find the right supplier and how you can judge if he is the right supplier!

The 1st article will explain how to build a database of potential suppliers (online platform and tradeshows).

While the 2nd article will show you how to select the 10 suppliers you will compare and how you can select the final supplier you will work with.

We know you are certainly an experienced buyer with years of practice. We still hope and are confident you can find some useful tips from these 2 articles and benefit from V-Trust 15 years’ experience in Asia!

Each part (1 and 2) takes around 8 minutes to read ( 1300 words for this 1st part).

Preliminary comments:

A 3rd party like an agent or a sourcing company can definitely help you source and find the right supplier. Choosing the right agent would actually deserve a whole article.

A trading company may for example be a good choice if your time is limited, you don’t have much experience in import-export, you buy seasonal product with large assortment that can be consolidated (X-mas decorations, etc) or if your order is small (agents can often have better negotiation power than a single small buyer). Now that we have mentioned this option you know it exists, if you still decide to deal directly with a factory, then go please ahead with the rest of our article!

Another step before looking to deal directly with a factory is to perfectly know your product. You should be 100% familiar with the material options, production process, cost calculation, different level of qualities, dimensions, colors, quantities you need, your maximum lead time. The more you know, the more you look professional and the more the factory will respect you, consider you and propose a fair quotation.

Be advised that preparing your requirements and a clear quotation takes time and energy. But it is a crucial step, don’t ruin your reputation by not knowing your product and requirements.

Be also aware that not any method to find the correct supplier is the perfect one. However these 2 articles can certainly give you some clues and tips.

  • Online sourcing platforms: 

    Lets start with the biggest of all, the giant Alibaba. Based in mainland china founded by Jack Ma. Its little sister, part of the Alibaba group is AliExpress, for small MOQ.

    No big news here. 99.99 % of you have probably heard about Alibaba. But do not only limit yourself to Alibaba. First because you need to take advantage of other platforms! Second, because some suppliers are not on Alibaba, Alibaba became so famous that suppliers receive dozens of inquiries every day, most of them from non-serious buyers. More and more quality suppliers who want to deal with serious buyers do not bother with Alibaba anymore.

    Among the other platforms, we have GlobalSources. Focused on electronic product (you still find all other product categories). Global source is an online platform but also (and more interestingly) a tradeshow organizer.

    More interestingly because many suppliers listed in Global Source also exhibit at their fairs (in Hong-Kong). This certainly add to their credibility. A booth on a tradeshow require investing money, some organizational skills and time. Definitely better than an online account on Alibaba that can disappear overnight. Quality of suppliers on Global Sources is generally higher than those on Alibaba. They also tend to have more experience in the export market and are more likely to understand your needs. Basically you tend to find less suspicious factories than on Alibaba. We said less, we did not say none.

    But on the other hand, suppliers listed on GlobalSources also expect more from you. They will usually ask about your company background, your history, your volume... They want to see if you are the right partner, if you are worth investing time. Sourcing from Global Sources may take more time than a single email to build trust and get thorough replies from suppliers.

    Among other platform there is also Made-In-China, with quite many suppliers. It can be very interesting for some niche market, for example for construction items or medical supplies.

    Another platform is Canton fair platform. But to be honest their strength is to organize the Canton Fair. Their online platform is poor with a very limited number of suppliers. It is only 5 years old. We do not recommend you this platform but you can certainly have a look.

    Last one we can mention is DHGATE. DHGATE is specialized for low MOQs and garment.

    Below is a table we made to compare all these major sourcing platforms:

  • Tradeshows

    We are now writing this article in 2019. It is the golden age for online and social networks. Why would you even bother travelling half of the world and spending few thousand dollars to join a tradeshow?!

    Well, tradeshows are still a great way to grow your business, even in 2019 and here is why:
  • For the Quality – Alibaba has a broad range of suppliers but there are a lot of middlemen, trading companies, and bad apples. It is hard to find the good ones.
  • To Diversify – Your competitors are surely already sourcing from Alibaba. Smart ones will find unique suppliers which deliver differentiated products at competitive prices.

    Many quality suppliers are NOT on Alibaba. Not all Chinese suppliers are on Alibaba. In fact, many reliable suppliers purposely choose NOT to be on Alibaba.
  • The right person – Partnering with the right supplier also means finding the right person, the right partner, the right sales representative. Someone who know you and your requirements, someone with whom you have established a relationship. “Man is by nature a social animal” as Aristote once wrote. Tradeshows are one of the greatest way to make meaningful business connections.
  • A sign of stability – A supplier attending a tradeshow is definitely a good sign. It demonstrate that the supplier is willing to invest time and money by attending a fair. Although scam companies still exist, even on fairs.
  • To have a feeling – Not convinced yet? A tradeshow is a great way to directly ask questions, see their reactions and have a feeling about their level of expertise, see if the sales representative is confident enough about this model, its material, lead time, if he is willing to answer your questions.


Bigger and more generalist tradeshows

 Let’s start by listing the biggest and most general tradeshows.

 Of course the biggest of all is the Canton Fair with 3 phases every time and 2 sessions every year (April and October).

We can also mention Global Source in Hong-Kong in October and April with different phases (Lighting, Electronic, Textile and Giftware).

Another big one would be HKTDC tradeshows (Hong Kong Trade Development Council), also in October and April with different phases as Electronic, Textile, Gifts or Home.

Last one would be the ECF in Shanghai. Mainly for suppliers from Shanghai province, Anhui or Zhejiang provinces. A more limited tradeshow (compared to the 3 other ones), taking place in March.

As you can notice, all these fairs are usually held in October and April. Buyers generally do few fairs at the same time to maximize their time and money

Below, please find a table to compare the main tradeshows in China.


Smaller and more specialized tradeshows

 Let’s now have a look at smaller and more specialized fairs. They can also be very interesting! Below, please find is a list. This list of is definitely not exhaustive.

These specialized tradeshows are a great way to avoid trading companies and deal directly with factories that have strong expertise in their respective field.


How to find smaller fairs dedicated to your product category?

A very effective way is to ask your existing suppliers (or the one you can meet on Canton Fair) if they attend any other tradeshow. Many product categories often have very specialized fairs with specialist suppliers. For example for pet products (CIPS), for furniture (CIFF), Lighting (HKTDC lighting), etc.

If you have any question, we can also recommend tradeshows dedicated to your product category, please just feel free to ask us!

With this 1st part you now know more about online platforms and tradeshows. In the 2nd part of our article we will focus on ways to assess your supplier.

Hope to see you reading our 2nd part!



V-Trust team
Vietnam Country Manager
MBA in Grenoble Business School (TOP 6 French Business School)
5 year experience in Quality Control industry
Multiple languages speaking (French, English, Spanish, Mandarin)


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