Good results in China with sourcing, price negotiations, and product quality starts with a good product spec sheet. Unfortunately, far too many businesses (especially startups) have no idea how their product is made, the grade/type of material they require for their product, and the product's dimensions, tolerance limits, and testing requirements.
If you are relying on product links (or pictures), a few random points on product functionality, and broad descriptions such as "best quality" when communicating with potential suppliers, you are setting yourself up for failure. Factories are smart and if you approach them without a clearly defined product spec, you are signaling to them that you're an amateur business. Expect to be taken for a ride.
The following is a list of reasons why a spec sheet is crucial when purchasing from China, and what to include in a spec sheet. We’ll also include a free spec sheet template that you can download.
8 Reasons Why You Need a Spec Sheet:
Reason #1: It helps factories understand your requirements. Factories rarely provide more information than what you have requested. Don’t make them guess your requirements or you will end up in a rabbit hole of back and forth emails that will delay your order.
Reason #2: It shows you are professional. Good factories get hundreds of enquiries a week. A lazy enquiry will get a lazy response (or no response at all!).
Reason #3: Accurate pricing. If you don’t know your product spec, how can you judge if the quoted price is accurate? Pricing and quality are entirely dependent on your specifications. For instance, a common one we see is clients requesting ‘good quality leather’. There are dozens of grades of leather and tanning methods. Do you want cowhide, or from another animal? Perhaps you want PU leather? Without a detailed spec sheet, suppliers will quote ‘low-ball’ pricing based on the cheapest quality standards to gain your interest.
Reason #4: It helps quickly eliminate unsuitable suppliers. If the supplier can’t produce to your quality level or compliance standards (ISO, FDA, CE, etc.), then what’s the point of engaging them to quote and develop samples?
Reason #5: It’s useful when creating contracts, OEM agreements, and POs. As Dan Harris from the China Law Blog points out, your spec sheet will be accommodated into your factory contracts, POs, and OEM agreements.
Reason #6: It’s less likely that the factory will degrade your product. Chinese manufacturers operate on low-profit margins and clearly defined spec sheets leave less opportunity for the factory to cut corners, use cheaper raw materials, low-grade packaging etc.
Reason #7: You’ll need this information for your quality control inspections. Much of the information in your spec sheet will be transferred to your quality control inspection list. Once production is finished, your QC inspector will need to know your quality parameters, tolerance limits, packaging and labeling requirements etc.
Reason #8: It’s a useful reference point for customizations. It’s beneficial to have a reference point to your original specs if you want to change something on future orders. It’s much easier to track and communicate product changes/customizations to your factory if you have a reference point.
What Should You Include in Your Spec Sheet?
- Product description
- The SKU
- The specific materials for the product and the precise amount
- Product dimensions
- Product tolerances (if any)
- The Pantone (product colors)
- Testing requirements
- Order quantity
- Label specifications
- Packaging specifications
- Shipping specifications
- Special instructions
- Photographs of the product from multiple angles and with the dimensions indicated
Click the following link for a free template China Spec Sheet that you can download.
On a final note, it's important to remember that when you are importing from China you are dealing with Chinese suppliers, not your local vendor. Cultural differences and language barriers mean that you need to be more, not less, specific with how you communicate your product requirements.
In the next post, I will run through how to format emails and requests for quotes (RFQs) to get the best response rate from Chinese suppliers.