The Factory Visit To Nowhere
Before I started working for HLH I was working in product development and spending my days between Canada and China (based in Shenzhen). Part of my job was to qualify suppliers. We had projects that involved injection moulding, forging, CNC machining, sand casting, sheet metal, blow moulding, acrylic, and much more. I visited a lot of factories all over China, literally trains, planes and automobiles with some buses thrown in for a bit of pain.
Factory choices in China are incredibly diverse. There are factories that offer a diverse range of services in-house. There are factories that are absolutely massive and only do one specialised thing. There are factories that you want to work with but they are so big that their MOQ is too high for small to medium sized production runs. There are factories that are really excellent at what they do but could never pass a factory audit in a million years. There are excellent factories and then, not so much. There are factories of all shapes, sizes and configurations, it can be literally exhausting trying to find the right supplier.
Of all the factory visits I made over the years, there is one that stands out in my mind for the sheer ridiculousness of it all. Our team in China always qualified supplier’s as best they could before we booked travel for factory visits and for the most part they were pretty good at it. Let’s be clear, you need to be good at qualifying factories in advance of a trip because travel costs add up fast. But for this particular trip, a rogue “factory” got us.
A 3-hour flight, followed by a train ride and a private taxi to get to this seemingly great supplier. The website was great, the boss answered every question we wanted, he was very knowledgeable. The trip wasn’t to rubber stamp the supplier but we were hopeful that this was our guy. We were driving through this heavily industrialised area for what seemed like forever, which is not unusual so no worries. But then the factories and buildings started to disappear and we started entering an area of low-rise buildings and I thought, “great, we have another hour to go until we get back to an industrial area and find this guy”. Then our driver pulled down this “road” and told us “the factory is about 5 minutes away”. FYI, the dirt road in the photo above is better than the road we were on.
That’s when I knew that this was a day that was likely a complete waste of time. The road we were on was a really bad dirt road, there were no factories in sight, there was no Oz at the end of this road. Finally, we arrived and from the back seat of the car I qualified the factory in 30 seconds. There was no factory, there was a structure with 3 walls and a tin roof, stuff strewn everywhere in the dirt in front of the “factory” and one perfectly shining gleaming display case with samples inside. The visual certainly did not match the as advertised website. Our production manager got out of the car to visit the “factory”, I refused. Maybe this guy could make the best parts in the world because of his experience and knowledge. But it didn’t matter, not only would he not pass a factory audit, he did not even qualify as a factory and could never handle our volume. Plus about 58 other reasons why I didn’t get out of the car.
Great website, great photos, but none of it real, he duped us, he wasted our time. Lesson learned, move on. I do note that I did almost get out of the car, not to visit with the factory but because I was curious as to where their electricity was coming from. I couldn’t figure it out, that’s how isolated this “factory” was. But I still stayed in the car as I didn’t want to get my shoes dirty 🙂
The trip, however, was not a total loss because I learned that I will never travel that far to just visit one supplier ever again, for the very situation described to you. We adjusted on this trip, made some phone calls and ended up visiting 3 other factories on this trip. Eventually we found a factory that had a fair price, good quality, and essential to this project…they could pass a factory audit with a bit of help.
You get what you inspect, not what you expect. Have fun on your next road trip 🙂
Photo Below: HLH 12,000 sqm, 6-floor rapid manufacturing facility.