Visiting Vietnam

Posted on: October 29th, 2009 by admin No Comments

I try to visit the factories at least once a year. It is always important to meet face to face. Email and digital cameras have helped factory communications tremendously. There were so many years when I waited months to get new samples. They would arrive just in time for a trade show, but were far from being “right.” Yet, there was no choice but to proceed. You could call those the “one season hits” – similar concept to the “one hit” bands.


Now – the factory can send a photo of an unfinished sample for approval. My Fed Ex expense has gone down considerably. I’m sure Fed Ex, DHL and others are not too pleased with the impact the internet has had on their document envelope business.


The main reason I go to the factory is not to talk about new product, but to talk about why they make changes to a design that has been running for more than 3 years.  The product is packed so beautifully at the factory, so I never see ongoing production unless a customer has a problem item and it comes back to the office. The problem is always about color. The customer cannot understand why the color is not exactly the same year in and year out. So – a lot of time is spent at the shows and on the phone explaining the process of hand mixing colors for each production run.  However, I will admit, that I too can’t understand why the factory is not able to be more consistent with colors that I have been running for 5 years.


This year they made the Mother of Pearl / Coffee Mini Cocktail in a color that was closer to a copper penny instead of the beautiful soft coffee. This year they changed the method of inlay for the mother of pearl on my bath accessories. I have been running two colors for 5 years. The ice green version has been perfect for five years. The coffee version has a little fluctuation in color, but is usually  within a reasonable range. In July, they changed the method of mother of pearl inlay creating a completely different design.


So, I am sitting at the factory with them last week. We look at the new designs – beautiful. Then I bring up the mother of pearl. They are excited about their new method. But – I remind them that I never requested a change or asked for samples to ensure the revised design was acceptable. I remind them I never sent a new product description in the purchase order. Nothing was sent from me requesting a change.  Their reply?  “Oh, but we think this new way is more beautiful than the original version.”  I admit that it is beautiful. But it is not what I ordered and my customers don’t like it. And, what am I to do with the 75 pieces of mismatched stock in my warehouse?! Hmmm.


Last year I went to the factory in March and again in October. They made my large spring order of monkeys and elephant s with an orange color instead of coffee. Fortunately, I was able to cancel the order before it was shipped out.  So, I go in March and we spend a lot of time looking at the color they made, at the dated color swatches on hand at the factory (which they are to use as a reference during production) and at the samples I brought with me showing what the color had originally been. It becomes quite comical because they tell me the colors are the same.  Ok – “this is orange and this is soft coffee – how are they the same?” I insist on watching as they make several pieces to understand the process and   I learn why the orange and soft gold are the same.  Now comes the challenge of making the factory realize that my customer considers these two distinct colors and will not accept both as the same.



We come up with a new way of describing the color in the purchase order so that the factory will know how many layers of color is acceptable. We label new color swatches (a “no lighter” swatch and a “no darker” swatch) with dates and signatures.   We all agree and are very satisfied with the visit.


Five months later I am back at the factory. I explain I have come again to review the colors since they have made them incorrectly – again. They look concerned buy smile and ask me to just tell them what color I want and they will make it exactly as I request.  I remind them of my March trip and how we did just that and they didn’t follow the dated swatches!  So – we do it all over again.  This time I spend even more time explaining the importance of color matching. I explain the retailers and the customers who shop. I explain that customers want to add to their lacquer collection.  I go on and on.


I guess the second trip really did the trick because the colors have been perfect all year. The mother of pearl problem is an easy one to fix in production since it is not an issue of mixing or layering colors. The real challenge will  be explaining the reasons for change to the customer.


I know that next year will bring some other surprise – I wonder what it will be.


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