I tried to buy some glass bottles from two factories in Taiwan. It seems there is a coordinated glass mafia in Taiwan so I was sent to the distributor. I can respect that however I found the distributor didn’t really understand how the bottles were made and wasn’t honest with me about this and other things. That led me to searching for another source. Frankly, I was shocked that the factory wasn’t honest with me. We have a saying in Taiwan that goes something like “Don’t do anything bad in Taiwan because this is a small island”. Fortunately, the opposite is also true in Taiwan. People work together here and share information. So off to Alibaba land……
Alibaba offers so many items to buy and a great way to connect to factories. Personally, I would never send a large amount of money to a company that I’ve never visited. I use Alibaba frequently to find factories, start conversations, and then do the usual checkout.
What are the questions that should be asked? It really depends on what you are buying but there are some basics. I always start with “Can I visit your factory?” If the answer is no or not until I order, then I’m getting closer to crossing them off the list. Sometimes the answer is not until you order because the sales office is in a different city than the factory, or your MOQ is too small for them to make the item in house. In that case, I’ll make a trip to the sales office first if I can understand they own factories. At a minimum, you’ll learn about them and they’ll learn about you.
Recently, I had a good factory experience with a glass bottle factory in Xiamen for carbonated alcoholic beverages. With the sales office being 10 minutes away from Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport, they sent a driver to pick me up. Chatting in Mandarin, I found my driver was inside sales so I had a chance to learn more about the company even on the short drive.
What do I look for? Some of the typical questions from me include:
How long have you worked here? I know that seems unrelated but I’m looking for stable companies. The salesperson that I’m working with has been there for 8 years. That is unusual and speaks volumes about this company.
How do you manage your third party suppliers and incoming materials? I want to see how they control materials and if they have any QA test reports in place.
How do you make your product? Factory employees should be able to explain how their products are made. If they can’t, they are not making your product or you are talking to the wrong person.
How do you test your product? In the case of glass bottles, there are automated tests to determine if the opening is correct. There are pressure tests, compression from above and side force tests.
What is your business process? One factory that I spoke with said they had no sample or pilot. You just approve the drawing and you just need to wait for the order. Having 40 foot containers of stuff that doesn’t match what I need frightens me! For me outlining this process usually involves a white board for writing a flow chart, patience and a good mix of Chinese and English until we finally understand each other. Each factory is a little different.
Good factories for almost every type of product have a sample and/or pilot. For glass bottles, they make one set of molds to produce a sample. The mold is the same for production with the only difference that more sets are made to bring the machine to capacity. After customer sample approval, then the remaining molds are replicated. Glass bottle machines seem to operate as fast as machine guns so I can see why the MOQs are high and the sample process is like this.
Getting exactly what you want custom-made and saving money is fun and rewarding. In this case, my client got a reliable factory partner and reduced the cost by 70%. Your product is in good hands when the factory can explain every detail and is honest with you. If you find they are not honest, run screaming to the next factory. Good factories enjoy telling you about what they do and learning about you. Leave nothing to chance.

What has been your experience with Alibaba sourcing?

Fun photos below: