Hello all Gentle Roller purchasers.
I'll begin with a little context. I’m dealing with six or seven key sub-supplier (the motor, the plastic parts, the cartons etc) all factories sourced by myself, but there is one main assembly supplier where I spend 80-90% of my time.
For any of you who have worked in China, or who have partners who have worked in China, you will know that it is not without its challenges. As a foreign customer visiting a factory you always get the royal treatment – long breakfasts when they pick you up, long tea ceremonies when you get to the factory, an hour of discussion then an even longer lunch - consisting of at least 8-12 courses, then a rest/nap, another hour discussion and it’s time for dinner and another 12-15 courses. This is the typical western experience of a day at a Chinese factory.
Let me just insert that for the record, the food is delicious (though they do like their bones, which are in most of the meat dishes). But it is cooked well and always fresh. I don’t recommend the yellow weasel or the turtle – they tasted fine, but was not to my western sensibilities. And before say you “arghh”, they find it curious we eat our national emblem of kangaroo and emu!
With all this eating going on, somehow not many work hours make an appearance – if you are lucky 2 to 3 productive hours per day is the norm. This can be very frustrating when you are more familiar with much longer work days, and as a “guest” it’s almost impossible to move the pace along. It’s a fine balancing act between the need to make progress and not offending your hosts.
Gradually, you have to reinforce your desire to “work”. You turn up at the factory in a "Mo di" (in English it's a motorbike-taxi. Some may know it as a tuk-tuk - a small motor bike pulling a small carriage). Having made your own way from the hotel without them picking you up – they’ll be amazed. When you need a screw driver you don’t wait an hour for the boss to return to the room he left you in, you wander off into the factory – translation app on your phone – find a worker and get it yourself.
The workers start to think you must be important wandering around unattended. The boss gets the message that you are there for work. Suddenly the long lunch becomes a shared meal in the canteen with the workers and your hosts. This is not a step down in the relationship, it’s a step up. The after-lunch nap is still compulsory – but lunch is 20 minutes rather than 2 hours.
Next thing you know you are being called back to the factory at 10:30pm to approve something because you’ve made the point that timing is critical, and they don’t want to wait until the morning.
Not many Western business people get to experience this part of ‘factory’ behavior. They fly in-fly out as “important” business people – order book in hand. I’ve been there and done that. I prefer to fly-in, get my hands dirty, be part of the process, and fly-out, sometimes reluctantly. I couldn’t get my Gentle Roller made otherwise. That and the luck to find a great assistant Albert, who takes care of everything – taxis, translations, phone calls, constant communication on WeChat to keep me posted on issues – it’s as if the Gentle Roller were his baby also.
Old age may also help, and a grey beard. Mr Wu, the boss of the main factory, calls me his father!
That isn’t to say it all goes smoothly just because you are part of the “team”. On this trip there have been many delays in production. The factories have big order to fill post Chinese New Year and trying to get 100 pieces of equipment made when they have orders for thousands of pieces is not easy. Luckily there is always a friend of a friend who has a factory nearby who can do some of the work.
There have also been some issues with the quality of some parts. “Boo how” (bad) has been uttered by me, to them, on many occasions.
And of course Chinese customs officials held up my PCB control boards for 2 weeks. They are covered by the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (CHAFTA), they have a tariff classification number, there is no duty % on them either before or after (CHAFTA). But customs insisted I didn’t have the “right documents”. What was worse, they couldn’t tell me how to get the right documents. Finally, my great friend and assistant, Albert, “arranged something” and several hundred dollars later my PCB’s were approved for import. No, it’s not perfect.
And to what you all really want to know;
Several key items are in the temporary space I’ve been allocated.
I approved the critical aluminium end panels on Sunday – production of them started yesterday and will take 8-10 days to finish.
I approved the critical PU rollers yesterday and production has started immediately … will take 8 days to finish.
Many other key parts are due for delivery this week.
There are 100 things that are now “all good” and about 6 critical things that could go wrong – let’s hope not.
The latest schedule – assembly starts Friday 23/3. Shipment starts Monday 26/3
I’ll keep you posted.