We often hear importers talk about their bad experiences with Chinese manufacturers. However, I believe that in many cases it actually is the importer who is to blame. It seems that often, these importers failed to communicate all their product requirements clearly to suppliers. I mean, relying on a few photos and then asking for ‘best quality’ simply doesn’t work. Much of the quality issues could have been prevented if these importers had prepared a proper product specification sheet upfront. In this article, I’ll show you how to do this.
What is a product specification sheet?
A product specification sheet is a detailed, concise document that clearly describes all your product specifications. This ‘master’ document is a great tool to assist suppliers and will help you get better results throughout the sourcing and production process. Later in this article, I will explain what should be included in your product specification sheet.
3 reasons why you need a product specification sheet
- Help factories understand your requirements
When you approach a factory, don’t let them guess your requirements. This is a recipe for failure, especially in China. The more detailed you describe your product requirements upfront, the better factories will understand what you are looking for.
- Get better quotes
If a supplier doesn’t know your exact requirements, how can they make an accurate price quotation? For example, if you want to source handbags and you ask for ‘good-quality leather’. As you may know, there a many different grades of leatherand methods for tanning. And from which animal do you want your leather to be? Without a proper spec sheet, suppliers are going to quote you the lowest price, based on cheap quality standards.
- Source higher quality goods
Chinese factories typically operate with relatively low profit-margins. As such, they will take every opportunity to lower their costs. Clearly defining your product requirements will limit the room for suppliers to use cheaper materials, low-grade packaging etc.
What is included in a Product Specification Sheet?
Specification sheets don’t have a required template. After a brief search on the internet, you’ll find out that different companies all use different forms. In addition, different types of products can have different dimensions to be included in the product specification sheet.
And this is ok. As long as the it lists all the necessary requirements in an organized and easy to understand way for all parties involved.
I found that the following structure will work good when dealing with Chinese suppliers:
- Product Name
- SKU (Product Code)
- Product Description
- Intended Use
- Reference Photos (also indicate dimensions)
- Dimensions & Weight
- Specific Materials
- Tolerances on Measurements (if any)
- Product Colors (use Pantone color codes)
- Performance (i.e. durability, high-temperatures)
- Testing Requirements (i.e. list potential defects & what is expected)
Packing & Labeling Requirements
- Packaging Specifications
- Labeling Specifications
- Testing Requirements (i.e. no damage after drop test)
Standards & Certification
- Certifications (i.e. for EU/USA compliance)
- Special instructions (i.e. personal logo on product)
It very well could be that you read through this list and think: WOW, but I have absolutely no clue about many of these aspects…and that’s ok. Maybe you have somebody in your network who can help you finalize the product specification sheet? Or you can consider to work with a third-party to help you? Just make sure to fill in as much as possible. Because the more detailed you describe your product requirements, the better.
How to use your Product Specification Sheet?
After you have defined your product specification sheet, there will be several occasions where you can use it to your advantage. Here some final tips:
- Requesting Quotes
First of all, you should include your product specification sheet when sending out your RFQ pack to suppliers. As I explained earlier, this will help suppliers to really understand your product requirements. As such, they will be able to provide better quotations.
- Supplier Contract / PO
Secondly, it is wise to include your spec sheet in the contract with your supplier, or when changes will be made, later on in your purchase order. Make sure that the manufacturer understands your project well and let them agree (by signature) with the contents of your product specification sheet. This puts you in a stronger position in case you need to explore [Legal Options in China after Breach of Contract].
- Quality Control
Finally, much of the information on the product specification sheet will be transferred into a QC inspection list. Before a QC inspector can perform [Product Inspections in China], he needs to know your quality parameters, tolerance limits, packing & labeling requirements, certifications etc. Having these defined upfront will be of great help.
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