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Quality control in China: when a compromise is the way to go

quality control Zhejiang

Quality control inspection in Zhejiang

This inspection took place in Zhejiang Province for one of our UK customers. The product was a creative set for drawing and making paper crafts.

These kinds of products are quite tricky to inspect because they can be comprised of numerous different objects, which should be checked and counted. In a set you might have a bunch of colored paper and stickers, markers and pencils, scissors, and it’s important to understand that all of these things are rarely produced at one factory. Paper production requires one type of equipment and raw materials, scissors require basic steel processing tools, markers – working with plastic and ink.

Most of the time such sets are combined and put together by specialized trading companies, who sort out better factories, order multiple supplies and then pack them all together. Anyway, you get multiple factories with different quality standards and production systems in one pack. That’s why inspecting creative sets is always a bit like getting a genie out of the bottle.

This time we found numerous deviations from the initial sample: scissors were of different colors, number of stickers varied from 2 to 4 from set to set (should be 3), craft albums had air bubbles on the surface, gift ribbons were correct colors but had slightly different designs.

In other words, there were multiple minor problems with different units within the set. And here we need to be careful about how to judge these problems, and how to work with supplier to solve it.

First, we need to remember that our supplier is a trading company in this case, not a factory. More than that, his own suppliers might not be factories as well and turn to be other trading companies. So your supplier’s ability to influence production defects can be fairly limited by his position in the supply chain.

So, all the problems should be divided into several groups:

Problems that could be solved by your supplier on the spot.
  • Different number of stickers in sets

This could be solved by the supplier, by going through all the sets, taking out extra stickers and using them for sets that didn’t have enough stickers.

  • Air bubbles on the surface of craft albums

I actually doubted they could solve this one. But the supplier managed to smooth out the back surface significantly with ironing.

Problems that can be solved by putting extra money (either yours or supplier’s) into the project.
  • Mixed designs of ribbons that came from the factory
  • Mixed colors of scissors.

There are actually several ways to address these problems: either your supplier have enough spare pieces at his warehouse (which is not what we had in our case), or negotiating with the factory to send extra supplies instead of those with wrong designs and colors (depends on the relationships between your supplier and production). If none of these works, new pcs with correct design and color have to be ordered.

As you can see problems solving in such situation can be very complex and require different kinds of effort: from sorting out the products by organizing office workers into conveyor, to negotiating with factories and buying extra units from them.

You also need to consider the following:
  • How much time these changes might take, as time is a valuable asset for most of the sellers.
  • How willing your supplier is to cooperate with you (which also depends on building your relationships, money transfers and how much profit he/she might make from your order).
  • How much you might lose by cancelling your order (time, money and effort spent on managing the project, marketing and promo + time you will need to return your money, regroup and find another supplier).
  • How crucial these problems might be to your customers, your ratings and final sales (seriously amazon customers are picky, but unless you are targeting elite market niche, in many cases, you might lose more by chasing production perfection in your first order)

After negotiations with the customer and the supplier, we made a decision to proceed with the order, tolerate mixed designs of ribbons and color of scissors and correct bubbles on the surface of albums. We arranged another inspection on the following week to check how these problems were solved.

The supplier managed to correct number of stickers for every set, and surprisingly smooth out craft albums by carefully ironing them, which decreased defect rate for the albums from 6.5% to 2% which is not perfect but already a great improvement. After that our customer managed to pick up his products and send them to UK.

This is not the ideal solution, but it allowed him to keep supply chain going, improve overall quality, and develop relationships with the supplier, which is already a small victory.

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