Even Toyota, the pioneering company of lean manufacturing, has struggled with maintaining quality levels amid a business expansion. In 2008, as Toyota was expanding into emerging markets, company President Katsuaki Watanabe remarked, “The fact that Toyota is growing globally suddenly shouldn't be used as an excuse" for its rise in quality issues.
A business expansion should never be an excuse for quality issues, whether you’re a manufacturing giant like Toyota or a small-scale Amazon seller. But business expansions can also put a lot of pressure on importers. Growing your business might require you to:
- Create inspection checklists with quality standards for a new product
- Ensure compliance with different legal regulations in new markets
- Work with new suppliers to manage larger order volumes or different products
These aren’t easy steps to take on your own. That’s why expanding your business can be the right time to turn to a third-party inspection company for help (related: How Linstol Expanded Their Product Range without Compromising Quality [Case Study]).
Growing your business can be both an exciting and a stressful process. Let’s take a look at how Asia Quality Focus (AQF) can help alleviate your headaches, so you can focus on building customer relationships and enjoying the fruits of your success.
Vetting new suppliers with comprehensive auditing and evaluation methods
There’s a lot of work to do when expanding manufacturing operations for your business. Factories are typically limited by their:
- Production capabilities, the types of products they can manufacture; and
- Production capacity, the quantities of goods they can manufacture in a given time
If you’re increasing orders beyond the scope of your current supplier, your first step will often be to find and qualify new suppliers.
How disappointing would it be to place a huge order with a new supplier only to discover later that they can’t manufacture to your quality standards? How damaging would it be to lose a major retailer’s business, which you were depending on to distribute your new product, due to a social compliance issue?
As one importer mentioned to us, due diligence in selecting a supplier is important to them because “We are concerned that we might win major business with a supplier we have no understanding of.”
How AQF can help you understand your new supplier through an audit
A professional third-party auditor can help evaluate your new supplier using international industry standards. To help you qualify and onboard new suppliers, AQF can help you verify:
- Quality and production capabilities, through a comprehensive quality audit of a factory’s quality management system (QMS) based on the ISO 9001 standard
- Social compliance, through a pre-audit to assess compliance to a particular standard like SA8000 or a retailer framework like Walmart or Target’s ethical sourcing standards
It can certainly be worthwhile to visit a new supplier yourself. Meeting your suppliers face-to-face can do wonders to improve your relationships. But many importers choose to work with a professional auditor to evaluate suppliers instead (related: 5 Reasons You May [or May Not] Want to Visit Your Overseas Supplier).
An audit typically takes at least one full day to complete, if not two for larger factories or more detailed auditing frameworks. Auditing also requires professional training and certifications on specific standards and protocols. Taking advantage of AQF’s auditing services frees you up to focus on more pressing issues where you can provide more value.
Verifying production capabilities by reviewing product samples
A quality audit can be helpful to verify a factory’s quality management systems. But you might also want to see a factory’s production capabilities in action for your specific product when choosing a new supplier.
Reviewing product samples can help you verify production staff understand your requirements and can manufacture to your standards. But handling product samples can be costly and more complicated than you might think. It takes valuable time to ship samples to and from the manufacturer. And golden samples sent to the factory for reference often must be reliably sealed to prevent tampering.
AQF can help you review product samples either in our offices in Shenzhen, China or on site at your supplier’s facility. On-site sample review is particularly helpful for importing large or fragile products that would be expensive or difficult to ship, like home appliances or industrial parts.
You just need to send your product information to us and we’ll review your sample according to your requirements. We’ll then send you a detailed report of findings, and once approved, ship the sample back to your supplier for reference during production and inspection.
Customizing inspection checklists for new suppliers, markets and products
Working with the same supplier over time to manufacture a product gives you a history to draw on when setting expectations. This lets you adopt a seamless process for identifying and addressing quality issues, adjusting inspection criteria as you go.
But when manufacturing a new product or working with a new supplier you won’t have a production history to guide quality standards. Setting quality standards is the most important step for managing product quality in the beginning of manufacturing a new product or working with a new supplier. Wait too long to set standards and you might receive defective goods you can’t sell.
That’s where inspection companies can help. AQF has broad product expertise and knowledge in many international and industry standards. These traits make our inspection checklists particularly useful to importers working with new suppliers or manufacturing new products.
No matter what product type you’re branching out into, AQF almost always has the relevant experience to help (related: 5 Benefits of QC Inspection Companies with Diverse Product Expertise).
AQF can create customized inspection checklists for all types of importers with:
- Relevant checks for adherence with your market’s regulations: market-specific checks and tests in inspection criteria
- Specialization in your product type: adjusted on-site testing, defect classifications or acceptable quality limits (AQLs) based on your specific product type
- Standardization of general product and packaging requirements across all orders to ensure consistent reporting across all inspections
Your QC checklist will lay the groundwork for future orders. So it’s vital that all requirements are clear and agreed upon by your supplier before production. AQF can provide bilingual inspection checklists to ensure your supplier understands your quality expectations and what to expect from AQF’s inspection methods.
Varied inspection methods throughout production for managing product quality
The last thing you want is for your highly anticipated and widely marketed product launch to go awry due to quality issues.
Even if you’re 100 percent confident in your product quality, inspection companies typically still suggest conducting a pre-shipment, or final, inspection to verify quality. But are you really ever 100 percent confident when working with new products or new suppliers? Probably not.
When expanding your business, you can gain further insight into product quality with inspections across the entire manufacturing cycle. These inspections can help you identify different quality issues throughout production and prevent quality defects from affecting a large portion of your order (related: How Quality Control Inspection Helps Importers Detect Product Defects).
Beside pre-shipment inspection, AQF can help you supplement your regular inspection schedule with:
- Incoming quality control (IQC): While typically conducted by internal factory staff, outside IQC performed by a third party can be helpful to assess a new supplier’s IQC processes
- First article inspection (FAI): FAI can be most helpful if you need to verify rare or expensive materials or components or if you have very strict tolerances
- During production (DUPRO) inspection: Conducted when the factory has manufactured 15-80 percent of the total order quantity, DUPRO inspection offers one of the best opportunities to identify defects in finished goods before they affect the majority of a shipment
- Container loading monitoring: Container loading monitoring might be helpful if you have a strict loading plan or procedure you need a new supplier to follow
You might not need to use all these inspection methods for all your orders. One of our clients decided to book a DUPRO inspection, pre-shipment inspection and container loading service for the first 10 orders at each of their new suppliers. After verifying a factory’s capabilities, you might find that a single, pre-shipment inspection is enough to manage product quality.
How AQF makes expanding your inspection schedule easier
Not all inspection companies can even provide all the above-mentioned inspection services. For example, some inspection companies focus primarily on pre-shipment inspection and might not be trained in other inspection methods. Other inspection companies might require you to work with different contacts to book different services.
For every inspection service with AQF, you can book inspections and set inspection criteria in our online quality management platform. You won’t need to resend inspection criteria or rehash requirements you’ve already established. Our client support, coordination and technical teams will all have access to your entire inspection schedule, making it quicker and smoother to book new inspections.
Tracking historical performance of suppliers with product quality metrics
The work involved in scaling a business doesn’t end the moment you release a product on the market. A poorly-managed expansion might jeopardize your entire importing business if sales fall short of your investments.
Reliable quality metrics are essential to measuring the performance of a product line or supplier. As a data-driven QC company, AQF can provide you with historical performance data for individual suppliers and SKUs over time. These quality metrics can help you track and evaluate your suppliers as you explore new products or scale up order quantities.
AQF’s quality metrics can help you:
- Track defect occurrence to identify and minimize repeat quality issues
- Compare and contrast inspection fail rates for different product types and suppliers
- Monitor the number of inspections conducted over a period of time at each of your suppliers, which can be particularly helpful for importers with frequent orders
How might quality metrics help in practice? If you’re manufacturing your product for a new market, the ability to track your supplier can also help you evaluate quality for different markets. Defect tracking can be particularly helpful for evaluating why some product lines are performing better than others.
For example, one of our footwear clients recently expanded into new markets, with different packaging requirements for each market. Through AQF’s defect tracking data, this importer was able to see which packaging was experiencing which packaging defects and how often. This allowed them to then focus their quality improvements on specific areas and ensure their products met their standards across all markets.
Being unfamiliar with a new product, a new supplier or a new market tends to put your product quality at risk. Inspection companies can help fill in any knowledge gaps so your business maintains its reputation for quality among new and existing customers.
But not all inspection companies are capable of handling quality control services at every stage of production, nor for all product types. AQF can provide the customized support your business needs through every step of your expansion processes, from vetting new suppliers to evaluating quality metrics.
Curious how an experienced importer expanded their business without losing quality? Download our case study by clicking the button below!