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When using an overseas supplier, what quality control processes should I use?

Thursday, 21 April 2011 | By Dean Ramler

This article first appeared on April 21st, 2011.


When using an overseas supplier, what quality control processes should I use?


I can’t afford to be over there all the time, but what can I do to ensure that our products are up to standard?


This is a great question, and one that is unfortunately missed by many entrepreneurs today who see a rising Australian dollar as reason enough to jump online and start importing away.


Almost anyone with enough capital and an innovative business idea can do so, yet it is those who pay the most attention to product quality that survive in the long-term.


Online shoppers today want the best prices and best service, yet they also demand fantastic quality. If you fail to meet these high expectations, your business will fail.


The very best way to manage quality control is to adopt a collaborative approach with suppliers. There is no substitute to going direct to the source and spending time on the factory floor teaching and guiding your overseas manufacturer how to produce your products to the highest standards.


Obviously, to do this, you need to be an expert in the product ranges you seek to import. This is something that we pride ourselves on at Milan Direct, and I enjoy putting my furniture manufacturing pedigree to good use, guiding our manufacturing partners in the production process.


The only alternative is to employ the services of a Third Party Quality Control Agent (3PQC) acting as “your eyes in the factory”.


There are many 3PQC providers, such as asiainspection.com, who manage this process on your behalf conducting everything from pre-shipment inspections, production monitoring, mid-production checks, postproduction checks and container loading checks.


You can even have the factory audited before placing an order to ensure that the company can in fact produce to the levels that they claim.


To maximise the benefits of using such a service it is important to provide the 3PQC provider with as much information as possible about what they should actually be inspecting.


Thorough checklists, detailed photos and actual product samples are all highly recommended if you wish for the quality testing to be effective.


3PQCs do not excuse an importer from being an expert in the products, and using 3PQCs is still fraught with risk as the 3PQC’s themselves require careful management to ensure that your desired outcomes are met.


For instance, due to the manual labour aspect of quality inspections it is not possible to test every single item produced. So you may receive a favorable report back from your small sample size, which may not be a true reflection on the overall quality.


A second issue is that some suppliers may not appreciate 3PQC inspectors coming into their factory, and putting their products through thorough testing, as this can cause disruption and/or loss of face.


Finally, it is not uncommon for quality inspection reports to come back as having failed, yet when you delve further into the details and understand incentives it becomes clear that the product quality was fine, however the 3PQC provider simply wanted you to pay to do a re-test!


So it is important to understand both the pros and cons. There is no substitute for being an expert in your products and using those skills to collaborate with your suppliers or 3PQC’s.


However, if you do not have the luxury of personally doing the quality inspections, then I would highly recommend utilising such a service for every single shipment, because if you are serious about satisfying your customers, you simply have to pay strong attention to product quality.