At the end of March a friend in Vancouver asked me if I could assist in securing 3000 stainless steel water bottles for a promotion he was doing. I told him I knew a handful of suppliers and would assist him as needed.
This story is not about to many drinks from a bottle but is an actually true life story of my journey within China to make this one stainless steel bottle for a client in Canada. During the story you will read about the difficulty of doing business in China, the driving, the traffic, the almost near death experiences (1) driving down the highway the opposite direction through oncoming traffic (2) being taken to the highway where the taxi tries to pond you off to others (3) the actual car accident I was involved with a truck. Well reading this story please remember I have 18 years of experience doing business in Mainland China and have lived in China for 20 months.
Back to the basics… Here is a link to the bottle we were looking to duplicate, http://www.gotwaterbottles.com/Promo-WaterBottles-StainlessSteelH2GoClassicWaterBottle24oz-Customized-38696.html, it is the 24oz. (700ml) bottle… The bottle quality is a 304 grade, 18/8 stainless steel with a PBA free lid. FDA approved with SGS certifications.
From GotWaterBottles.com the pricing for this same model is $7.99/unit (one colour print) for over 1000 units plus set up fees, the item I was making is a 3 colour print, so there would be an extra charge of $1.50/unit for the two extra colours. The set up costs were $50 per colour, since this was a 3 colour bottle that would be $150.
The final cost for this bottle from GotWaterBottles.com would be $7.99 + $1.50 + $0.05 = $9.54/unit USD. My price is $2.66/unit CDN all in delivered to the client’s door in Canada. That is a savings of $6.88/unit, not bad for a promotion that could have cost $28,640 which now cost $7980, a savings of over $20,000 on one order.
See a picture of the item I was making below:
The next challenge was the delivery; the bottle had to be to Canada in less than a month. So the next morning I was up at 6:00am on my way to the train station at 7:00am and departing for Zhejiang at 7:45am. I arrived into the train station at 10:30am but my driver was late so I sat around til 11:00am, then we were on our way to the factory (another city) after a lunch stop at 12:30pm, finally arrived at the factory at 1:30pm, toured the facilities, looked at the showroom, and discussed the project on hand with the owner. By 3:30pm all details were finalized and confirmed with the factory owner, now we needed to drive to catch the 4:15pm train back to Shanghai. A 40 minute drive turned into a 1.5 hour journey. We were stuck in grid lock traffic and ended up taking a side route, which meant that we were now lost… being lost or not knowing where you are going is a common occurrence in China so I was not alerted. Anyhow to make a long story short we arrived in to the train station at 5:00pm and there were no more trains to Shanghai that night.
One suggestion was to stay in Jinhua and go back to Shanghai in the morning, but I did not want to go back to Shanghai if I was to stay the night, so I looked at the other option of driving back to the factory city and spending the night there which is what I did. The hotel was an additional cost of 300 RMB ($44 USD) and the unused train ticket which I sold for 50 RMB ($7 USD). I was up early the next morning, addressing business issues and planning my day of research in another city, which meant I had to get on a bus for another 1.5 hour journey.
That morning the Bus departed at 9:00am but within 30 minutes of being on the highway we experienced a huge traffic jam, as the bus driver is on a schedule he was quick to make a turn onto a side road which took him to another side road through a local village and then another side road back to the highway. But there was a problem as the side road intersected with the highway had the driver going back to the city it departed from. So instead the driver inched into the highway and started to drive head on into oncoming traffic, see below picture and video from the front seat of the bus where I was sitting.
Thankfully I survived the 20 second drive down the opposite side of the highway crossing over 3 lanes of oncoming traffic to a location where the driver could get back on the highway going the right direction. Did you notice not one car honks their horns while driving head on into traffic. Adapt and change is the method, do not make a scene.
I arrived into my location at 11:00am and needed to find a taxi to take me to my next location. But I also needed to purchase a train ticket for my return journey to Shanghai. Thankfully well waiting for a taxi I noticed a train ticket office near the bus station, so I got in line to purchase a return ticket to Shanghai at 4:15pm. Well I was in the train station I got the address and distance expected for my next location.
Thankfully I found a cab who easily understood where I was going. On the drive to my location, the driver stopped to ask others waiting for a taxi to see if they were going the same direction, finally we found two other foreigners on the side of the road who were going the same direction but further so we picked them up for the drive.
I arrived to my next location at 11:30am, by 2:45pm I finished the additional research I wanted to do and did not want to miss my 4:15pm train to Shanghai so I made sure I allowed over one and half hours for travel for a 20 minute drive. Thankfully there was no traffic and I was at the train station early at 3:00pm. But catching a taxi to the train station that was a whole different story as it was raining outside and there were no taxis in site and many people waiting. Thankfully there was not a formal order to the waiting for a taxi and my Chinese kicked in and I was aggressive and got a taxi as others people arrived to the same location.
When I returned to Shanghai that night I received an email from the supplier that I confirmed the order with that they could not meet the delivery requirements and would have to cancel the order due to over capacity at the factory. I expressed my dissatisfaction and went to my 2nd option which was in waiting. Actually I already started communicating this factory at the same time, as they were my first choice but where slower to respond.
The second factory and I confirmed the order the next day and I had them start on a production counter sample that was produced and delivered to my door in Shanghai in 2 days. Upon receipt I approved the production sample, requested a Performa invoice so I could make a deposit. During the few days of conversation with my account manager, I noticed by his expression that he was a junior employee and requested that he get a senior employee to work with him on this order.
On April 1st I received the Performa invoice with the complete company name and deposit requirements, I quickly went online and processed the wire with my bank. The wire was confirmed as received by the employee but the employee had incorrectly spelt the company name and I would need to edit the bank wire, the name on the wire had a slight difference: Industrial Trading Co.,Ltd, When it should have been: INDUSTRY & TRADE CO.,LTD. In China this slight difference means allot and the supplier could not receive the deposit. So the next day I contacted my bank the next day to edit the bank wire the advised me that I would have to pay a 300 HKD change fee and hand deliver the document to their office with my signature. I expressed that I was in Shanghai and they expressed that I would need to courier the document to them. They then sent me the form I needed to complete with the change. The next day I made the change and went to the post office to send by Post Office to send the one page document by EMS, but when I was told it would take 4 days with EMS for the document to arrive. I was in shock and decided to it would be best to take a taxi to the Fed Ex office, when I arrived I confirmed that the envelope would be delivered the next day, the fee for delivery was 100 RMB.
The next 7 days, this junior employee gave me a 100% guarantee that everything was going smoothly with the order and it would be delivered on time. Which was a concern as this employee did not have a lot of prior experience. He expressed that he believed I was his teacher, I expressed that I am his client, not his teacher and the questions he was asking were inappropriate.
On April 9th this junior employee called me and told me that he just found out that the product would have to an export certificate for food grade on the stainless steel and this was not quoted in the price and that the inspection would take 15 days. I told him that his company specializes in this type of product and must have a solution to this problem. He finally talked to his manager who decided to cancel the order that evening.
On April 10th the junior employee expressed that his manager had canceled the order the evening before. I told him to immediately have the order re-instated, the employee stated this was impossible as the inspection fee was 6000 RMB ($882 USD) and he wanted to me to absorb the fee and order delivery delay, as it was a Saturday I immediately requested a meeting on Monday with senior management and/or the owner and expressed that he proceed with the order as originally agreed.
That Saturday I purchased my ticket for travel for travel the following day, Sunday, April 11th as I wanted to spend the evening before in the city of the original supplier, I spoke with the train reservations person in Shanghai in regards to the train ticket I was booking as it departed at 3:22pm, I asked if there would be buses running from one city to the next as I would be arriving in around 7:00pm, and I needed to take the bus for one hour to the next city. She advised me that buses would be running often. That day I also booked my hotel at a cost of 300 RMB ($44 USD) that I stayed in previously. After confirming my schedule I started communicating with the original factory regards to my order difficulties, I expressed and pleaded with them to take on the original order. But the staff member advised me that she had bad news as not only were they over capacity with production but also the building owner would take back the building they occupied at the end of the month, so they needed to find, secure and move into a new location. So there was no way she could take on the order.
On Sunday, April 11th I arrived into the train station at 6:45pm, haggled with a taxi (40 RMB) who took me to the bus station which we arrived at 7:15pm. When I got to the bus station I noticed a big crowd gathered outside the station. When I approached an attendant at the bus station, I was advised it was closed. So my next instinct was to take a taxi, so back to taxi negotiation skills 101. Finally after speaking/yelling/negotiating I found a taxi to take me to the next city for 150 RMB. We started on our journey through the city to the highway; the driver had to stop at a taxi station to report where he was going. But then we got 10 minutes onto the highway and the taxi driver pulled over and got out and started speaking with other cars/taxis that were also pulled over.
This is when I had to get out and get involved in the conversation as I wanted to know what was going on. The cabs were trying to group people together so they obviously could make more money. I actually think my fare was sold to someone else who was hoping that he could make more money by having two; three or four people pay a higher fare. Then an individual started telling me my fare would be reduced to 120 RMB but I would have to travel with two others. I started speaking/yelling/negotiating again with another individual who I believe just purchased my fare, actual I didn’t say much, I was just observing. Then after 10 minutes of yelling/negotiating with this person and others a bus approached and started yelling out the city name I was going to, so the other person who I was also trying to be grouped with got on the bus, so I followed and so did the other person who had bought my fare, he was lividly upset and was screaming at me at the top of his lungs to get in the other taxi. I choose to let him scream and scream (for 10 minutes) and then we finally agreed that I would pay 30 RMB for the taxi that brought me there. Finally the bus was able to depart and be on our way to the next city. The attendants and I agreed to a fare of 40 RMB for the bus ride.
Really after the way this individual was acting there was no way I was getting in a car that he had anything to do with.
The next morning I continued my conversation with the other factory regards to the bottle production but that employee stated that I should stay with my replacement factory, I finally agreed. At 10:00am the owner’s son arrived at the hotel in his new White Audi TT to pick me up and take me to his factory. He spoke good English and we chatted on the way to his factory. His driving was aggressive so I decided it would be best to try to locate the seat belt. I quickly learned that the seat belt had been altered and was not available for me to secure. Thankfully I survived the journey to the factory without a seat belt.
When I arrived we went to the owner’s son’s office with the employee and discussed the issue of the order. The owner’s son made a few phone calls and said the inspection would not be a problem. We agreed to start the order again and he confirmed a delivery of April 20th ex-factory. Then I was ushered for lunch with the factory owner and two employees. During lunch we discussed the business and opportunities briefly, and then I was taking back to the factory for the driver to take me back to the train station at 2:30pm.
The following day I communicated the new delivery to the company in Canada. That afternoon I received an email from the employee who stated that the factory owner’s son did not know everything about the order issues and that a April 20th delivery was unattainable, they requested an end of April delivery. I quickly responded requesting a confirmed new delivery date and asked if April 28th was ok.
On April 13th I departed for a preplanned trip for business to Hong Kong and Guangzhou to attend trade shows. During this time I continued communication with the employee via email, QQ, text, and phone conversations and the owner’s son via phone. I was unable to confirm the new delivery times and continued to press for dates without any confirmations.
On April 15th I departed Guangzhou for a preplanned vacation in Bangkok with 3 friends visiting from North America. During the vacation I continued requesting a delivery confirmation via QQ and email but did not receive a response. As my China Mobile phone did not work in Thailand I decided it would be best to purchase phone credits with Skype so I could make calls to the employee and owners son. On April 17th and 18th I sent emails to the employee that went unanswered so on April 19th and 20th I called the owners son and employee in regards to this order. On April 20th the employee sent me an email that the order was canceled. I expressed my disappointment and shock as we had agreed to this order on April 1st and they had received a deposit for this order and had giving me a written confirmation.
On April 20th I decided it would be best to end my vacation early and return to Shanghai to look after the order. I had advised the factory and employee that I would like a meeting with the factory owner and confirmed a meeting for April 22nd. That day I purchased a return ticket to Shanghai for $600 USD. I arrived back to Shanghai the evening of the 21st and it was too late to purchase a train ticket.
So the morning of April 22nd I got up at 5:30am again to depart for the train station at 6:30am to purchase a ticket to the closest city to the factory. But when I got to the train station the lines were all long, I waited 15 minutes in line to find out all seats were sold out and I would have to stand for the duration (2.5 – 3 hours) of the trip. I accepted this fact and quickly purchased the ticket at the same price as a sitting ticket.
On April 20th I confirmed the appointment with the employee and factory owner. After confirming the appointment I confirmed that the driver would be there to pick me up at the train station when I arrived the morning of the 22nd. I told him I would arrive at 10:20am and that the driver should not be late, I expressed for the driver to be there at 10:00am.
On April 22nd at 8:15am I texted the employee to tell him I was on the train and for him to make sure the driver was at the train station to pick me up. The factory was a one hour drive from the train station. As I never heard back from the employee I texted the employee again at 9:00am to ensure the driver would be at the train station to pick me up. After that text the employee phoned to tell me that the driver and he would be there to pick me up.
I arrived at the train station on time at 10:20am to see no driver or employee, so I immediately called the employee to find out where they were. The employee expressed the driver was out delivering product and that he and the driver would come and get me in an hour and half, which in China can mean in 3 hours. I expressed my disappointment again and advised the employee that I would take a taxi for one hour to his factory as I had limited time as my return ticket to Shanghai was at 4:15pm. At this stage I thankfully was talking to another employee at the company who was more adequate. This employee spoke with the taxi, gave the driver the address and negotiated the price (150 RMB/$22 USD) for the taxi. The taxi was a pleasant and refreshing trip and I arrived within the hour at 11:50pm. During the drive I texted and called the employee to make sure the owner was there for the meeting, I expressed the importance to ensure there were no additional delays.
Thankfully when I arrived the factory owner was there and we quickly went to his office for a meeting. They expressed that they would like to go for lunch I expressed that we could go for lunch after we finalized the order details. In preparation of the meeting the night before I produced a document highlighting the communication and confirmations of this order. The employee and factory owner apologized for the employee’s errors and the employee begged for forgiveness. The owner made a few calls in regards to the inspection and then the owner expressed that this order was small and a money losing proposition and that he would not cover the complete 5500 RMB inspection fee. The factory owner requested that I pay 3000 RMB ($442 USD), instead of negotiating I accepted not to further delay this order.
I immediately produced a production schedule for bottle making, bottle printing, flyer printing, shipping documents, and inspection. The factory owner had requested an additional week for the inspection time-line but I expressed that this order could not be delayed any more. I requested that the order be completed on the 6th instead of the 13th that was requested. After looking at the production time-line I had created and a few more calls to the inspector the order was finally confirmed to be at the shipping docks in Shanghai on May 6th. After the meeting I went for lunch at the local restaurant down the street with the two employees as the owner had to attend another appointment. After lunch the driver took me to the next city which was an hour away, we were 5 minutes away from the train station stopped at a traffic light and the driver proceeded forward when the light turned Green, but the driver did not see the oncoming truck who was driving through the intersection, I saw the truck and tried to warn the driver but it was too late and we impacted by the truck, see pictures below the pictures of the accident, the vehicles and each direction of the traffic lights.
After the accident I was in shock and my neck and back was stiff and sore. I waited til the Police arrived then departed via taxi to the train station. I arrived just in time to catch my train.
Following the confirmation I called and emailed the employee to ensure the production had started the next day. I then followed up on a daily basis via QQ as it is a readily used form of communication in Mainland China. I also was double communicating with the other employee who now was assisting with this order. That day I also went to see a foreign doctor in regards to my neck and back, he confirmed I had soft tissue damage and whiplash. A 10 minute visit to the doctor cost 800 RMB plus 160 RMB ($141 USD) in medication.
The next few weeks, I went for massages and the gym on a regular basis to get back to good health, I am still going to-date. I went back to the factory for 2 days of final inspection on May 3rd and 4th. During lunch I found out that this factories largest buyers were Tesco, Wal-Mart, and Costco.
Thankfully this story has a happy ending and the order was completed and shipped to Shanghai on May 5th so it could be received on May 6th to get prepared for its journey to Canada on May 10th. Below is the final product in preparation for shipping:
To make this long story short as it is really only one bottle, nothing is really easy in Mainland China… The original factory expressed that the 3 color screen print was difficult and that there were other complexities with this order like the flyer insert, stainless steel certification and low quantity (3000 units). As well I was dealing with an eager college graduate who wanted to make a difference and wanted to start establishing his business career at my expense. In Mainland China there are too many new university/college graduates applying for the same positions so this employee choose to move away from his family to start his career in a new city where his pay started at 1000 RMB ($147 USD) per month plus commission. This salary included his living quarters which were on the factory grounds. During our lunch conversation the employees mentioned that their wage did not include the food expense which would have to be paid by the employee. In China some factory employees will have lunch provided by the factory canteen, this factory did not have a canteen.
As an experienced professional I quickly recognized the inexperience of this employee so I requested that he seek assistance. I believe this employee did not have support staff to assist with this order. The factory just expects the employee to learn through trial and error at the customer’s expense. When the employee finally approached the management and owner they expressed their concern by canceling the order numerous times (April 9th and April 20th). I expressed that if they would have told me this on day one I would not have an issue changing suppliers, but now they had my deposit and we had consumed weeks with this order and a change was impossible and I needed them to complete the order. In addition to the above it takes many emails, confirming the production, production samples, changes, corrections, follow ups and more confirmations via email, phone, msn, QQ and in person visits.
A friend in Canada (Macully) who caught a weft of this and expressed his amusement that I had to physically go to the factory every time there was an issue, he mentioned isn’t it more effective via email. I expressed that in China Guanxi (In person meetings) is required and they prefer the preference of an in-person visit as it produces quicker and more cost-effective results when you are there in person. In certain circumstances I believe allot can be accomplished when dealing with a more senior employee but since this employee was a junior I had to go hold his hand. I finally agreed to be his teacher but told the employee he would have to start listening and follow my requests.
Now I understood why this other supplier had a price difference of over $20,000 to cover expenses associated with doing business in Mainland China. All in all I am delighted that the order is complete. I am confident I will never have to experience this again to make any production, hence why I wanted to share this story as I believe this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
If you have any stories to share or would like to comment please leave below. Happy, safe and successful sourcing…