If you want to build a successful business with physical products, you must take two crucial steps. Pick a good product. Then, choose a reliable supplier. This will establish a long-term partnership.

In Chinese culture, there’s a famous saying by the ancient military strategist Sun Tzu. It goes: “Know yourself and know your enemy, and you will never be defeated in a hundred battles.””

You don’t need to be well-known in Chinese culture or business. Follow me. You’ll get a clear way to check a supplier‘s background and pick the best one.

Suppliers’ business model

One of the most crucial things to inspect about your supplier is their business model. It is also one of the primary aspects. Are they the real manufacturers? Or, are they trading intermediaries? Or, are they wholesalers?

What I urge you to grasp is the ability to discern the nature of your supplier and understand who you are transacting with. In China, suppliers usually fall into three types. These are: manufacturers, trading companies, and wholesalers.

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Manufacturers

Factories make stuff. Some put up stalls at Chinese marketplaces, join events (like the Canton Fair), or open Alibaba accounts. That way, people like you can find them.

Others just stick to making stuff. They don’t deal with foreign buyers. These factories sell to Chinese traders or wholesalers instead. Since they don’t have English-speaking sales folks, it’s tough to find or buy straight from these suppliers.

Trading companies

It’s not always easy to tell trading companies apart from wholesalers. To keep things simple, I call them both “traders.” They usually stick to selling one type of thing, and they’ve been doing it for a while.

Their smallest orders start around $1000, similar to factories. They only buy from manufacturers they know well and trust. If you don’t mind spending a bit more, it’s a good idea to team up with these traders for the long haul.

Wholesalers

Wholesalers are ubiquitous, found on platforms like Alibaba, at trade shows, and in wholesale markets. They don’t specialize in specific product categories but rather sell various products to generate profits.

Their MOQ can be very low, like under $200 or even $100. This is great for buying small batches.

Wholesalers can quickly catch the fashion and are a top pick for hot products. But finding the real maker of these goods can be tough.

If you want a long-term plan or customize, wholesalers might not be perfect. They charge more. As they don’t have the same expertise as makers or traders.

Analyzing products lines

Besides examining a supplier’s business model, another method to gauge their business background is by analyzing their product lines. In many cases, manufacturers specialize in products made from similar materials or through the same manufacturing processes.

Products Lines With Manufacturers, Trading Companies And Wholesalers
products lines with manufacturers, trading companies and wholesalers

A supplier who says they make phone cases should only sell phone stuff, maybe made from silicone or plastic. But if they also sell random stuff like laptop bags, it means they either don’t make the phone stuff or only focus on phone accessories. They might buy the laptop bags from others and sell them, acting more like a trader.

If you find a trader who sells phone accessories, they’ll probably have other phone stuff too, like chargers, screen protectors, or headphones.

Wholesalers sell all kinds of things, like electronics and clothes, that don’t really go together. This mix of products tells you a lot about what the supplier does.

Check supplier’s location in China

The third aspect to consider when assessing a supplier’s background is their location in China. Particularly when sourcing suppliers online or at trade shows, the supplier’s location can significantly impact their competitiveness.

If the supplier operates from an industrial cluster specialized in the product you’re interested in, their prices are likely to be more competitive compared to suppliers from other regions.

If you don’t know what industrial clusters are and how to find them, you can read our last post.

Another crucial aspect regarding suppliers’ locations is their registration. Many Chinese suppliers are registered in both mainland China and Hong Kong. This not indicative of a scam but rather a common practice due to China’s stringent regulations on foreign currency exchange.

Chinese companies often register offshore entities in Hong Kong and utilize corresponding bank accounts to process foreign currency payments from overseas clients.

Check supplier’s business history

The fourth thing to look at is how long the supplier has been around. If you want a dependable partner for the long run, pick someone who’s been in the game for at least 3 years. In China, it’s cheap and easy to start a business – anyone can do it for less than $500 and call themselves a pro on sites like Alibaba. So, if a supplier has lasted 3+ years, they’re probably solid.

To check their history, just ask them, look at their business license, or see when they joined Alibaba.

Whois.com - Check Supplier
whois.com – Check supplier

Furthermore, you can visit whois.com to check the registration date of their website domain or email address domain. Also, exploring the supplier’s website or social media pages may reveal information or photos indicating their participation in trade shows and consistency in selling similar products over time.

Check the exported countries

The fifth thing to think about is where the supplier ships to. Say you find a supplier with super low prices, but most of their buyers are from poorer countries. If you want to sell on big US sites like Amazon, it might not work out. American buyers might not like the quality and ask for refunds.

Chinese suppliers usually have a few countries they focus on. Knowing where they mostly ship helps you figure out if their stuff meets the standards in your country.

Check the compliance certifications

The sixth aspect to check with the supplier is whether they have relevant compliance certifications for the product you intend to purchase.

For stuff like electronic toys or medical gear, different countries have their own rules. These rules are needed to clear customs or sell online.

If you want to bring in electronics to the US, look for suppliers with an FCC stamp. That means they follow US rules. But if they only have a CE stamp for Europe, that won’t cut it in the US.

Certificate Of Conformity Research
Certificate of conformity research

In such cases, you’d need to incur additional testing expenses to ensure compliance with US regulations. Therefore, if you’re aiming to import into the US market, it’s advantageous to source products from suppliers who already possess FCC certification to streamline the importation process and avoid extra costs.

Check manufacturer’s qualifications

Apart from product certifications. The seventh aspect to consider is the manufacturer’s qualifications.

But, for most small to medium-sized businesses, delving too deeply into this aspect may not be necessary. Qualifications of factories are typically of more concern to larger buyers. Also, trading companies and small manufacturers might not have such qualifications. But, this varies by industry.

One commonly observed qualification is ISO 9001. It signifies adherence to a system for managing quality. It is not essential for all businesses. But, ISO 9001 certification shows that the supplier is a real manufacturer. They have efficient processes.

Another common qualification is the SA8000 certification. It assesses a factory’s social responsibility. This includes factors such as fair wages and safe working conditions for employees.

Many small to medium-sized businesses may not need to filter suppliers. They do so based on these qualifications. But, if a supplier has these qualifications, it can improve their professional image. It suggests experience with larger retailers.


Now, you probably know how to check a Chinese supplier’s background in 7 different aspects. However, all these methods are only suitable to identify if the supplier is reliable, but not enough for you to decide who is the most worthy one to place an order.

By just checking the supplier’s background, you probably will get several similar suppliers that all have good backgrounds. But how can you know who should be the best choice to start the business?

Next, we will tell you how to choose the best supplier.

Compare the price

Of course, the initial factor to compare among suppliers is the price.

Stainless Steel Water Bottles With Low Grade
stainless steel water bottles with low grade

Say you’re shopping for stainless steel water bottles. Going for the cheapest might not get you the best. Lower prices could mean lower-quality steel, like 201 or 304, which rusts easier or gives water a weird taste. And the low price might be for flimsier bottles that don’t hold up or keep drinks cold.

Even if all sellers are makers, prices can still differ by 10% to 30% for the same thing. It depends on their size and costs.

Different Prices With The Same Products
different prices with the same products

For large retailers, suppliers like small workshops with ten workers may not be suitable, regardless of their affordability. Thus, when comparing prices, it’s crucial to discern the reasons for significant differences and assess whether they align with your requirements and expectations.

Compare the quality of samples

When choosing suppliers, compare prices and check the quality of their samples. No matter their background, quotes, or promises, get samples to see if they can make good stuff.

If you like a supplier’s price, ask for a sample from their past big orders to test the quality. You’ll pay for the sample and shipping.

Sample fees include shipping costs, like using FedEx or DHL. Even for small items, they have minimum fees. Like, if you want 500 phone cases at $5 each, the sample fee might be around $50.

If you plan to get samples from many suppliers, the total cost can be high. For example, getting samples for several products from three suppliers could cost over $500. In such situations, it’s best to work with a reliable contact in China. For example, a sourcing agent can help with collecting samples. They also assess quality and join samples. This approach can reduce shipping costs.

We are a professional sourcing agent, if you are now worried about finding a good agent, then contact us, we will do our best to help you.

But, if you’re making a new product instead of sourcing an existing one, the strategy for getting samples may differ.

Handcrafted samples

If a product can be made by hand, like stuffed animals, clothes, or backpacks, makers usually charge $100 to $200 to make a sample based on your design. With all the materials ready, they can make a sample in a week. In this case, you can ask one or two suppliers to make samples. If you don’t like them, try other suppliers.

Mold creation

For products requiring mold creation, such as plastic-made items, the process is more complex and costly. Creating molds entails significant expenses, often amounting to thousands of dollars, and it takes at least 30 days to complete the mold creation process, including testing and sample production.

In such cases, it’s advisable to initially compare suppliers based on other criteria before committing to sample creation.

Compare lead time

lead time” It’s how long the supplier needs to make and pack everything for shipping after you order.

If two suppliers have similar prices, go with the faster one. A shorter lead time might mean they have more space or time to make stuff. This is good when buying hot items – acting fast lets you cash in before others do.

In a fast-moving market, being early with a trendy product can make a big difference in profits.

Compare the shipping cost

When choosing between the last few suppliers, look at shipping costs and options.

Some suppliers offer super low prices to get your attention. Then, they might hike up shipping fees later to make up for it.

Also, if a supplier doesn’t have much experience shipping to your country, they might get higher quotes from shipping companies. That means you’ll pay more in the end.

To choose wisely, compare both the product cost and shipping cost together for each potential supplier.


Choosing the best supplier needs to consider many aspects and now, you might know how to choose a good supplier. The next step is to quote the price and choose the trade term.

If you have any questions please let me know in the comment. I hope these skills can help you easily find the best supplier to make your product.

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