Using an agent or doing it yourself can both work effectively. However, doing it yourself is much riskier, unless you have an experienced person in whichever overseas country you are dealing with to manage the project
When something goes wrong or awry, it almost certainly revolves around communication. Did the factory understand what I meant? Were they agreeing to my first email request or my second?
An agent already has an established business model, a business registration in China, experienced staff that understands not only the language, but the different dialects, extensive factory contacts, an office, showroom and a history and reputation with the factories.
This is the safest and most efficient way to manage Asian business, until a company gains valuable experience and the right people.
NOTE: All too often companies assume that because the first order or two went smoothly, that this is a "piece of cake" - only to find things can unravel in a matter of hours. Emails can be misinterpreted, communications between social sites like WeChat and Skype are misconstrued and quickly things are running down a rabbit hole.
It also happens that companies find someone who communicates in perfect English and just assumes they have their best interest in mind. They "seem" to understand the business, they "seem" to know more than the general layman and they, once again, think, "Maybe I'm the lucky one. Maybe I found the one honest and forthright person who is actually the manufacturer and is actually looking out for my company." This is fool's gold and never, ever ends welI!
Advantages of Having An Agent:
- Knowledge of who is a manufacturer or who is a trading company...HUGE difference.
- Business registration--minimizes paperwork...is your mfg registered with government?
- Staff that knows the language and culture. Asians are very particular, and they want to be considered partners and feel respected. Western companies often make demands and are disrespectful, and they wonder why they don't have success overseas.
- Understanding of the country itself. In China for example, certain products are made better in certain parts of the country. A "westerner" would have no idea.
- Brings extensive factory contacts in different industries - and knows how to find the key people at each factory...(e.g. who is the boss, the REAL boss, who makes the decisions on payment terms, who handles quality, who will answer the phone at 3 a.m. when there is a sudden question or a problem, etc.)
- Access to offices and showrooms - Chinese want to meet face-to-face if and when possible. They want to meet and greet and spend time together. With our fast paced North American attitude, this can be different. However, an agent who knows the best way to get what you want is going to tell you when you need to slow down,sit down and have a meeting.
- Honesty and integrity - North American companies tend to assume their Chinese supplier is on the "up and up," and we all know what happens when we "assume." The point, an agent on the ground overseas has multiple ways to not only sniff a problem out, but also to combat it before it even becomes an issue. Otherwise, and we've seen this happen time and time again, something is overlooked. Then no one knows about it until the container arrives on U.S. soil and you've already paid for its contents.
- Understands and handles paperwork - North American rules and paperwork don't apply to Asian companies. An agent knows what paperwork is needed, how to get shipments moved to port, containerized and then delivered.
- Understands sourcing...China has a BILLION more people than we do in the U.S. It is a massive country, with so many manufacturers it takes an experienced agent to locate, vet and then qualify suppliers.
- Understands and handles inspection - this is probably the most important part of having your own agent. Regardless of the product you are buying, there are so many minuscule details that must be followed.
From the material structure, the printing, the style and any other nuance that is important with your particular order. Then, this same inspector needs to assure the product is packaged and organized properly and even make sure the cartons and container are marked correctly.