As a buyer half a world away, there is nothing more frustrating than your supplier’s factory manager giving you a hard time with production. This situation may happen more often than you’d like. But before you decide to play hardball and threaten to take your business elsewhere, take a deep breath and relax. With this in mind, here are three tips to help you deal with a difficult factory manager.

With this in mind, here are three tips to help you deal with a difficult factory manager:

1. Use incentives

Being a successful factory manager in China means producing at a level of quality closest to what a client will accept at the lowest cost and in the shortest time possible in order to maximize profit on each order. Every time you demand rework or add new criteria without absolute clarity at the actual manufacturing process, you’re cutting into his margins. It’s not news in the world of economics that the only golden rule is “incentives matter”. Try to put that rule to use in these situations. Maybe you want to see a certain change in the factory’s process that you believe will improve product quality and efficiency. If you want to see this change happen without having to force it down the factory manager’s throat, make them understand this way will help them improve and master the design and manufacturing process. This will allow workers to be more efficient and, in the end, increase margins for them and help them retain business.

2. Clarify expectations and be detailed

Sometimes shipping delays or issues with product quality are not solely the factory manager’s fault but can also be due to miscommunication. Doing business from thousands of miles away is already a challenge in difficult factory manageritself. This challenge is further compounded by a lack of communication. In order to avoid ruining a potentially successful business relationship, it is best to maintain clear instructions and expectations about your product. This will help clear up exactly what is being done wrong and who is at fault. Providing detailed specifications also helps avoid blame shifting between the supplier, the buyer and any third-party QC company the buyer may have hired to carry out product inspection. Good communication not only helps easily identify where problems occur, but it often prevents problems from happening in the first place. Even with the most difficult suppliers, one thing a factory manager will appreciate and respect is you communicating your specifications to them clearly to avoid problems later on.

3. Hire a third party QC firm

Once in a blue moon, you will encounter a factory manager who seems to want nothing more than to run the factory into the ground. He doesn’t have any knowledge of how to be profitable, will not accept changes or recommendations and shows little or no desire to cooperate (see 3 Telltale Signs of a Bankrupt Factory). difficult factory managerIn cases like these, your course of action can vary depending on the context of your relationship with the factory. If you feel you have a good financial relationship with the factory worth saving, you might want to consider hiring a third-party QC company. While a factory manager may be uneasy about the added oversight third-party inspection can bring, they often benefit from learning where quality problems are occurring. A third-party inspection company brings their own experience to help the buyer and the factory pinpoint issues they might otherwise not have noticed until after shipping an order. Once the factory is able to mitigate issues, both product quality and adherence to shipping deadlines often improve. In turn, you’re able to improve the relationship you have with the factory manager, and his factory typically becomes more efficient.


It’s not always easy to deal with difficult factory managers. More often than not, you will have trouble getting your message through to them. But finding a new supplier can be an even more difficult option. If you find yourself working with a difficult factory manager, remember to take their perspective into account and follow these tips:

  • Take some time and explain your ideas and concerns in a way that helps them widen their margins. Money talks for everybody!
  • Be clear and upfront about expectations and product specs from the beginning.
  • Consider hiring a third-party QC company to carry out pre-shipment inspection.

And in the end, if you really can’t seem to reason with a difficult factory manager, look for greener pastures (see 4 Telltale Signs of a Bad Supplier). Finding a new business partner should be the last option on your list, but if that’s what you have to do rid yourself of a problematic supplier, then do it.

Share your horror stories about working with difficult factory managers in the comments below!


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