Last Friday, one of my long-time clients reached out to me with a request for a new product – wood wool acoustic panels. I had never dealt with this product before, so upon receiving the inquiry, I dove into researching and understanding it. After some discussions with various suppliers, I decided to embark on a trip to the supplier’s factory over the weekend to further confirm product details and the specific certification requirements from our client.
To be honest, visiting suppliers is always an intriguing experience, especially when they are completely new to me. As I made my way to the factory, I couldn’t help but wonder about the factory’s layout, equipment, work environment, and even the personality of the owner – whether they are cheerful and welcoming or reserved and challenging to work with. The journey was filled with factories of all kinds along the way, with trucks coming and going, transporting goods to various destinations. I found myself pondering where these trucks were headed – which city, which port, which country, and which customers they were destined for. First impressions often start forming from these moments, and I was fortunate to be warmly welcomed by a lady working at the factory, leaving me with a favorable first impression.
As an international sales, my role is to meet clients’ needs and assist them in their procurement and project endeavors. However, many factories that excel in producing high-quality products for the domestic market often struggle when it comes to international sales. They may lack international trade experience, prioritize production, or already have their hands full with domestic business. Consequently, they might not have a dedicated international trade department, experience difficulty communicating with international clients, or handling the intricate details and technical aspects of the products. Nevertheless, these factories typically have a solid base of loyal customers, and through these relationships, they gradually expand into new markets. Hence, they might be less inclined to work with clients whose procurement quantities are small or inconsistent. As foreign trade professionals, we have the time and expertise to thoroughly understand client needs and efficiently relay that information to factories or suppliers for a productive collaboration.
During my conversation with the factory manager of the wood wool panel manufacturer, I discovered that he is a passionate and optimistic individual. Despite producing only one type of product, wood wool panels, for over a decade, he has consistently improved his production processes. He started with mostly manual labor and later transitioned to a workforce of fewer than ten employees operating mechanized equipment. His dedication to producing a high-quality product in such a competitive market is truly admirable.
In the course of our conversation, the factory owner shared that he has customers from various countries, including Europe, Russia, the United States, Australia, and more. What astonished me was that he had only completed high school and spoke only Chinese. Yet, he frequently traveled abroad to meet clients, even though he encountered numerous challenges, particularly when dealing with customs. His story left a deep impression on me. Sometimes, we don’t need everything to be perfectly prepared before taking action. Timely decisions and actions can lead to unexpected rewards. Perhaps, it’s the courage to take the first step that we often lack, an inability to confront the fear of the unknown, or difficulty overcoming psychological barriers.
During our conversation, I learned that the factory was about to start production of a new product after six years of preparation. The factory manager proudly said, “Do you see those old machines outside the factory? We replaced them during the research and development phase.” I realized that the R&D process was far more challenging than I had ever imagined.
I often find inspiration in the persistence and passion of the older generation, which greatly influences my work and life.
After providing quotes to clients, sending samples, and holding meetings, there was one critical issue that remained unresolved – the NRC (Noise Reduction Coefficient) testing for the product. The domestic and international standards for recognition were different, making it difficult for our client to accept the domestic testing certificate provided by the factory. This posed a significant challenge, and despite my best efforts and consultations with superiors, we couldn’t find a solution. Eventually, I decided to reevaluate the entire inquiry process to ensure my thinking was clear.
During this reevaluation, I discovered that another one of my competitors had previously sourced wood wool panels from the same factory. Because they had extensive experience in exporting these panels, they had already conducted SGS NRC testing. In this scenario, the factory could guarantee that the panels would pass SGS testing, and all we needed to do was apply for the SGS-NRC certification. This breakthrough brought me great joy, as it seemed like a solution to our problem. However, when I shared this discovery with the client, they informed me that the project had tight deadlines and they couldn’t wait for us to complete the testing. Despite my best efforts, the absence of SGS-NRC certificates meant we didn’t secure the order.
From receiving the initial inquiry to providing quotes, sending samples, and participating in client meetings to determine the chosen supplier, the entire process took approximately eight days. I found it fascinating how, within this short period, I went from knowing very little about the product to becoming familiar with its specifications and market applications. Although we didn’t ultimately secure the order, these eight days left me with unforgettable experiences.