Manufacturing in China: First Factory Visit

“I’m coming to China to meet some factories, what should I bring and what should I know before coming?”

Here are a few recommendations for first timers :

At a single factory you could easily meet over 20 people from different departments so make sure you bring plenty, running out is embarrassing. The business card exchange is a sign of respect and there is somewhat of a formality to it. Stand up, give your business card with two hands and receive with two hands. After receiving their business cards, look at it, and place neatly on the table or in your bag, don’t just shove them into your wallet.

Give and receive business cards with two hands.

If you are visiting a few factories you’re going to be spending a lot of time traveling by car and train. Almost all factories will offer to arrange car transportation for you.

My recommendation, if you are traveling around South China, is to ask the factory if you can travel there by high speed train and they pick you up from the train station. Train is safer and faster. The new high speed rail means you can get to Guangzhou South in 44 mins vs 2–2.5 hours by the older intercity train previously.

High Speed Rail Hong Kong-Shenzhen-Guangzhou. Photo by N509FZ

If the factory is located in Shenzhen picking the right border point to cross will save you a lot of time in a hot car so plan ahead.

Taxi drivers will not understand English so if you are forced to take a taxi ask the hotel or someone to help you write the address in Chinese to give the driver. Even if you can access Google Maps you’ll notice the position isn’t accurate so Apple Maps is generally better.

Photo by Roi Dimor on Unsplash

As you have probably heard, as soon as you enter mainland China, you will not be able to access most of the internet. Anything Google, Dropbox, YouTube, Facebook, Whatsapp, will not work. Many US servers are blocked by the China Firewall or are very slow to access.

There are a few ways around this but they require preparation before entering mainland China. One way is to use a VPN to tunnel traffic through. This works 95% of the time if you have a good VPN provider with HK servers and a solid internet connection. Make sure you test your VPN before entering China mainland because once you are on the mainland you won’t be able to access any VPN website. Regarding whether using a VPN in China is legal or not, it seems to be a bit of a grey area. This article sums it up well.

My recommendation is to either purchase an international data plan on your local sim or to buy a China Mobile prepay card in HK with China LTE roaming data. Roaming data isn’t filtered by firewall so you don’t need to worry about VPNs unless you want an extra layer of data security.

It’s worth noting that some International Hotels in China have applied for a special internet connection that bypasses the firewall however their wifi can be pretty slow.

The English level in China isn’t great however it is improving rapidly. Most factories will have managers that speak English or will have a translator. Even so avoid using slang and come to your point quickly.

Summer is typically very hot and humid especially in the South so lighter clothes are preferable. When meeting factories a suit isn’t necessary. Smart jeans or dress pants and a shirt is fine but don’t wear shorts.

In China, eating a meal with a potential factory is just as important as the meeting. It builds a relationship and trust, don’t skip this important custom. Don’t worry if you can’t use chopsticks, there is no shame in asking for a knife and fork. If you are at a Chinese restaurant your host will most likely order for you so let them know if you have food allergies or restrictions.

For sure China is going to be different from what you are used to. Embrace it. Try some new food. Make an effort to socialize with your hosts. While you’re here learn about the local culture and what drives people. It’s not only interesting but will for sure help with any future dealings here. Finally, learn at the very minimum how to say hello “ni hao” and thank you “xie xie” properly in Mandarin, it will go a long way.

GM of Sphero (HK). Oversees the development and manufacturing of Sphero’s sophisticated robotic toys in China. Over 11 years living in HK.

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