inkwell.vue.358 : Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China
permalink #101 of 150: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Thu 30 Jul 09 04:35
    
I was referring to the West in general, not just to the U.S.
  
inkwell.vue.358 : Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China
permalink #102 of 150: paulmidler (paulmidler-1) Thu 30 Jul 09 06:44
    
Cynthia - There weren't too many stories didn't make the book, but one
comes to mind this morning...

I wrote about a US client's efforts to manufacture health and beauty
care (HBC) products in China. At one point, the client wanted the
factory to look into creating a dry-stick deodorant. The factory was
highly motivated to try, especially because no one in China was doing
so (the Chinese prefer roll-on, if they use deodorant at all). Anyway,
because samples of dry-stick were difficult to come by, I gave the
factory one of the few that I had carried with me from the US.  

The factory was never able to pull off a production sample, but they
placed my deodorant stick in their showroom anyway -- as if it were an
example of their expertise. Fast forward a couple of months, I ran out
of deodorant. I tried to recover my "sample," but the factory refused
to let me take it. I reminded them that it was mine, that I had paid
for it, that I had physically brought it into the country for my own
personal use. It didn't matter. They insisted that it was now theirs,
and they went as far as to lock the showroom to prevent me from
slipping the thing into my pocket. They knew that they had no argument,
but they fought hard anyway -- because they wanted it. 

I wrote in the book about how factories in China "fake" entire
showrooms by displaying items that they don't actually produce.

Reminds me of one other, related story. I mention a Turk. He also told
me something else, something that also didn't make the book. He talked
about how he had once wired $50,000 to the wrong factory. The factory
owner that he had mistakenly sent the money to was considered a friend,
but there were no orders in process, and the "friend" tried to take
advantage of the situation. Instead of wiring the money back, he
stalled and made excuses. He suggested that since the funds were
already in his account, the importer should consider placing an order
anyway. Contract manufacturing doesn't work that way. The importer had
no orders to place, so the factory owner was out of luck on that
account. Long story short, it took months to get the money back, even
though the Chinese industrialist was considered a friend. I remember
how the man from Turkey put it: "Money changes them," he said.   
  
inkwell.vue.358 : Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China
permalink #103 of 150: paulmidler (paulmidler-1) Thu 30 Jul 09 07:51
    
Barry - On the point of multiculturalism, Han Chinese are said to
account for 92% of the country. This might be a little misleading,
though, since the 8% are in geographically distinct regions. In most of
the places an importer does business in Mainland China, the rate
approaches close to 100%. There is far more on-the-ground talk about
differences among Chinese due to province of origin. For background on
Han Chinese...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Han_Chinese
  
inkwell.vue.358 : Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China
permalink #104 of 150: uber-muso hipster hyperbole (pjm) Thu 30 Jul 09 09:20
    
A lot of the Spanish conquest of the west was led by Catholic
missionaries.  The Mormon's were warred against on a smaller scale.
  
inkwell.vue.358 : Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China
permalink #105 of 150: Daniel (dfowlkes) Thu 30 Jul 09 12:58
    <scribbled by dfowlkes Tue 3 Jul 12 10:14>
  
inkwell.vue.358 : Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China
permalink #106 of 150: cyndigo (cynthiabarnes) Thu 30 Jul 09 13:15
    
"CHINESE MANUFACTURERS STOLE MY DEODORANT"

I see a pulp novel here.
  
inkwell.vue.358 : Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China
permalink #107 of 150: Linda Castellani (castle) Thu 30 Jul 09 15:23
    

Or a National Enquirer headline with a photo of Paul ducking into a limo 
and avoiding paparazzi as he leaves the manufacturer's plant.

So, Paul, I don't think you really addressed my question about media 
interest.  If there hasn't been any, do you have plans to stir some up?

And, there's something about this discussion that I can't quite put my 
finger on, as if the stories are ending before the punchline.  Maybe it's 
that you want to promote your book while also carefully not treading on 
too many toes?

Also, I have to say that I felt so sorry for poor, beleaguered Bernie.  
What has happened to him and his company since the book was written?
  
inkwell.vue.358 : Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China
permalink #108 of 150: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Thu 30 Jul 09 16:28
    
Speaking of counterfeiting:

A cautionary tale from China

"[...] a group of BMC’s senior Chinese managers had – unbeknown to
BMC’s German managers – set up their own company within the advertising
and exhibition business and, Mr Zuercher and the rest of the company’s
management claim, siphoned off its most lucrative advertising
contracts.

[...]

"When he joined, it appeared that BMC had lost most of its clients and
was barely able to pay its bills. But after the anonymous tip, Mr
Zuercher visited the central Beijing railway station and found the
place covered in advertisements from clients the company had supposedly
lost.

"That was when he mounted the raid and found marketing material and
other documents indicating that seven former and current employees of
the company’s advertising subsidiary, including Mr Li and his former
classmates, had set up a shadow business in August 2008, called BMC
Heli. This company even used a logo that was almost identical to
BMC’s."

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/e4103832-7a87-11de-8c34-00144feabdc0.html
(registration required; I was able to get in for free.)
  
inkwell.vue.358 : Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China
permalink #109 of 150: paulmidler (paulmidler-1) Fri 31 Jul 09 07:02
    
Hi Linda - There's been media interest in the book, sure. At the top
of this discussion, I listed a few book reviews. I'm not sure what
you're getting at exactly. The publisher, of course, has a role in
letting the media know that the book has been published. In the end, a
book must find its own way. If one person picks up the book and then
proceeds to tell ten people about it, that's a marketing plan. Most of
what moves a book is word of mouth.

I like your second comment: "There's something about this discussion
that I can't quite put my finger on, as if the stories are ending
before the punchline. Maybe it's that you want to promote your book
while also carefully not treading on too many toes?" 

Others have said something similar, but regarding the book. Maybe I
have suggested "A leads to B leads to C, and, therefore..." I don't
offer a lot of solutions at the end. Maybe that is because I am not
convinced that there are any. Some are left feeling uneasy by this
book, and maybe that was part of the point. It was how I felt after
working in China manufacturing for so long. 

Let's look at importers for a moment to highlight this point about
"can't win." Those that did not go to China were considered fools.
Their production costs were too high because they were no longer
competitive in a place like North America. Those importers who went to
China had their hats handed to them. In some cases, importers who went
to China found that their suppliers turned into competitors. Working
with China for some groups was like quicksand. The more they moved
around, the quicker they sank.     
  
inkwell.vue.358 : Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China
permalink #110 of 150: Ari Davidow (ari) Fri 31 Jul 09 07:33
    
I'm commenting late, but I am having a lot of trouble with some of the 
themes here. We're sitting here at the 100th anniversary (or some such 
number) of the publication of "The Jungle." Manufacturing external to 
China has a long and =continuing= history wherein people cut corners and 
are quite ready to screw the customer if it saves some money, except to 
the extent that there are laws and enforcement sufficient to make 
complying with the laws competitively acceptable. (If you are the only 
person following a law, and it costs you money, you go out of business.)

Over a hundred years after the triangle fire, dozens of people were killed 
in a poulty plant in the south because the doors were locked and a fire 
broke out inside. There is no shortage of shoddy manufacturing here in the 
US, but there are =some= laws being enforced, and its cheaper to do a lot 
of manufacturing elsewhere. And we know that some manufacturing in China 
is accomplished to acceptable standards.

So, are Chinese really uniquely bad, or is there a combination of 
entrepreneurship, weak laws, and weak/nonexistent enforcement? You seem to 
be saying that they are uniquely bad, but that leaves me with the odd, 
not-matching-reality vision that all of the predatory work practices that 
exist in the US today must be done by ethnic Chinese, and didn't exist 
prior to some takeover of US manufacturing by same? I don't think that is 
a defensible view of reality.
  
inkwell.vue.358 : Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China
permalink #111 of 150: paulmidler (paulmidler-1) Fri 31 Jul 09 09:22
    
Ari - Glad that you have made these further points related to product
safety. We are on the issue, again, of whether China's case is unique. 

One glaring piece of evidence cay be found in the US Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) setting up offices in a foreign country for the
first time. US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) now follows
suit: 

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5i1CU5YW1IGWQeQQ3hkd7efc5JSEg
D99OU0AG2

This has never happened in world history (i.e., that a leading economy
has felt compelled to set up offices in a foreign market). It is
possible that this was done for political reasons, because politicians
wanted to be seen as doing "something." Then again, we could be setting
up offices out of genuine need. Why have we never done this before? 

If you read my book, you will understand that these agencies don't
stand a chance of guaranteeing product safety. If an importer that is
fully engaged at a manufacturing facility cannot get the job done, how
much help can it be to conduct infrequent inspections? 

China's case is different, as I show in my book. There isn't enough
space to go into all of the arguments, but one factor that is cultural
that is worth consideration is this "counterfeit culture" pervasive in
China. There is a value placed on the ability to mimic higher quality
levels. One of the reasons that China wins so much business is that
manufacturers find ways in which to produce a seemingly valuable
product at a low price. Importers suspect that there is something
wrong, but pressing for details means in many cases uncovering bad
news. Better not to know, these importers figure. 

China's case is also circumstantial. It is now at the crossroads of
international trade, and this position has contributed to quality fade.
Not long ago, if a supplier was caught in some sort of production
shenanigan, it might be forced to take a loss on a shipment. Today, if
an importer rejects a production run due to quality issues, the factory
can unload the bad goods through an extremely large network of agents
that are on the ground in China. In addition to secondary markets
(e.g., Middle East, South America, Russia), China's own domestic market
has grown to the point where it can swallow inferior goods, if
necessary. When the "cost" of pulling a fast one is lowered, the
incidence of game-playing is raised. It's economics, really. 

The book is book-length. These posts are going to be shorter,
naturally. Other issues that you raise also play a part. Legal
structures are lacking. Enforcement is nil. One last point. You should
be careful to lump in cases that are accidental with those that are
willful. You will get people who look at the melamine case and will say
"the US has product failures, as well." It's like someone talking
about the murder rate in a given population and defending it by saying
that some have died by slipping in the bathtub. In the book, I make a
point of separating out the more willful instances from the accidents
due to ignorance, etc.

 
  
inkwell.vue.358 : Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China
permalink #112 of 150: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Fri 31 Jul 09 10:16
    
Thanks for all your interesting thoughts here.  I think I'm gonna go
buy the book.
  
inkwell.vue.358 : Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China
permalink #113 of 150: paralyzed by a question like that (debunix) Fri 31 Jul 09 10:23
    
Me too.
  
inkwell.vue.358 : Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China
permalink #114 of 150: descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Fri 31 Jul 09 10:48
    

I wonder how Lenovo is managing to get decent quality on laptops? And
could that be a model for others to follow?
  
inkwell.vue.358 : Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China
permalink #115 of 150: David Albert (aslan) Fri 31 Jul 09 11:02
    
That could be a more general question: are there ANY good products
coming reliably out of China, and if so what are they and how is it
being done?
  
inkwell.vue.358 : Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China
permalink #116 of 150: paulmidler (paulmidler-1) Fri 31 Jul 09 11:24
    
With these last two comments, we return to a familiar point: "If
*some* of the products out of China are good, then maybe we don't have
a problem." 

The analogy I have made before is the murder statistic out of
Philadelphia. Four hundred citizens were murdered in a single year,
most of them by handguns. I could easily suggest that million were not
killed, so the city therefore has no problem.  

Please note that you do not have to be personally shot at in order to
admit that your city has a gun problem. By the same token, we do not
need a 100% defect rate in order for there to be a serious problem in
China. And it is possible for some products to be excellent, while
others are faulty.

In China, there are many who will say something along these lines that
there are good and bad people wherever you go. To this comment,
someone I once knew responded: "Yes, but the ratio is killing me." It
is that ratio between good and bad that we worry about, and of those
product failures we have to see what kind of problem we have. 

Not all product failures are the same. On the low end, you have
products that fail due to human error, or machine error. Slightly above
that you have cases of negligence. Above that you have instances of
corner cutting. This might involve laziness on the shop floor, or
something along those lines. 

Well above that you have these incredible instances of product
manipulation, where factory owners have orchestrated frightening cases
of fraud. These industrialists have sought to circumvent third-party
laboratory tests that are in place to help everyone. What makes these
cases even more disturbing is that the savings are so small, and that
the hazards to human life were significant. Add to it the fact that
large numbers of individuals knew what was going on, and these cases
appear even more insidious. 

Quality problems are not all alike.
  
inkwell.vue.358 : Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China
permalink #117 of 150: paulmidler (paulmidler-1) Fri 31 Jul 09 11:34
    
Not Lenovo, but a big-brand company...

http://blogs.consumerreports.org/safety/2009/07/haier-fined-587500-for-failure
-to-report-defective-fan-model-ftm140gg.html
  
inkwell.vue.358 : Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China
permalink #118 of 150: Rik Elswit (rik) Fri 31 Jul 09 11:45
    <scribbled by rik Fri 31 Jul 09 12:24>
  
inkwell.vue.358 : Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China
permalink #119 of 150: descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Fri 31 Jul 09 12:01
    

> With these last two comments, we return to a familiar point: "If
> *some* of the products out of China are good, then maybe we don't have
> a problem." 

That's not what I asked. What I asked and am interested in is HOW they're
managing to pull off quality given the embedded quality problems China
has.
  
inkwell.vue.358 : Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China
permalink #120 of 150: Every Acid Dealer Gets Busted Eventually (rik) Fri 31 Jul 09 12:24
    
I only posted part of 118.    Here's the whole thing.

Yamaha, Takamine and Guild are building good acoustic guitars over there
 for 1/3 of what they'd cost over here.    They are a step up from the
 Japanese and Korean budget boxes that the major manufacturers were selling
as budget boxes in the past.
  
inkwell.vue.358 : Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China
permalink #121 of 150: Ari Davidow (ari) Fri 31 Jul 09 12:38
    
That's the thing. There may be a difference in volume and in secondary 
markets in which to dump defective goods, but I gotta say that the history 
of trade, especially trade since the industrial revolution is so very much 
about just what you describe as "unique" to China. I don't have a quarrel 
with how worrisome this is due to the volume of stuff that China makes; my 
quarrel is letting the scale obscure what seems to be normative human 
nature, now, for the first time, on a scale large enough that it matters 
hugely more than it ever did (much the same way that we can finally put 
enough CO2 in the air to make global warming an issue, or can finally 
create dead zones in our oceans due to concentrations of pollutants on the 
one hand, or over-fishing on the other).

The reason this matters is because your thesis seems to lead to the 
plausibility that if manufacturing were moved from China to elsewherein 
the world these problems would lessen or disappear. I'd say that is 
demonstrably untrue, despite an infrastructure that makes it easier in 
China right now to get away with shoddy quality.
  
inkwell.vue.358 : Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China
permalink #122 of 150: Dan Flanery (sunspot) Fri 31 Jul 09 13:25
    
>I wonder how Lenovo is managing to get decent quality on 
>laptops? 

According to Consumer Reports, roughly 20% of all laptops bought
between 2004 and 2008 have had serious problems or required a repair.

This does not sound like decent quality to me.
 
>if manufacturing were moved from China to elsewherein 
>the world these problems would lessen or disappear. 

Well, did we get melamine-laced baby formula and pet food from the US,
Canada or even Mexico?  No.  So I'd say it's pretty obvious that the
quality of manufactured goods coming out of China is often disastrously
poor, and that at least some of the worst examples we've experienced
so far are the result of fraud.

I mean, has *this* happened lately in the US, Canada or Germany,
Japan, France or the UK?

http://surferjerry.com/weird/shanghai-building-falls-over/

Beijing, we have a problem . . .
 
  
inkwell.vue.358 : Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China
permalink #123 of 150: Barry Warren Polley (barryp) Fri 31 Jul 09 13:47
    
I wonder about the Lenovo example too, because it's an example of a brand
that rides on its reputation - for reliability and build quality. When IBM
'sold out' the Thinkpad line, there was a great deal of anxiety expressed in
the tech press about imminent quality collapse, which didn't happen.

I'm loving the T61p I'm typing on right now.

Two thoughts occur to me w/ this example:

(1) Lenovo isn't an anonymous supplier to another company, as the book's
King Chemical was. The purchaser of the final product is generally guided by
trust in the brand and the supply chain isn't diffuse.

(2) Lenovo doesn't make all of its product decisions based on getting the
lowest possible price. To the contrary - if they started doing that they'd
lose the cachet that allows them to charge far more than their competitors
do for similar products. Customers pay their Thinkpad tax willingly but
would stop doing so if quality declined from a chase to the bottom.
  
inkwell.vue.358 : Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China
permalink #124 of 150: Dan Flanery (sunspot) Fri 31 Jul 09 14:00
    
Good points regarding Lenovo, though like I noted above, laptop
quality in general just ain't that great.
 
  
inkwell.vue.358 : Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China
permalink #125 of 150: paulmidler (paulmidler-1) Fri 31 Jul 09 14:23
    
"...your thesis seems to lead to the plausibility that if
manufacturing were moved from China to elsewhere in the world these
problems would lessen or disappear."

I did not say this. It is not a message from the book. As far as
themes go, you might try instead: "Culture does matter."

Let's set aside the cultural issue for a moment, though. All things
being equal, do you really want to have products made on the other side
of the planet? When something goes wrong at the factory at 2pm, you
can't just pick up a phone and talk to the head office because it's 2am
in New York. Even if you didn't have the linguistic and cultural gaps
(which truly are significant), the time zone difference alone is enough
to have potential negative impact on quality.   

Related to the point raised by JM, one way to raise quality is to
throw money at the problem. Bear in mind that the reason importers
shifted orders to such an unlikely  economy was in order to *save*
money, not spend it. Many who moved production to China found that
there were no real savings. In other cases where there were savings,
foreign operators found that it wasn't worth it. 

Was interviewed last year for a story about a Germany plush toy
manufacturer that decided to move its production back home. Here is the
article:

http://www.reuters.com/article/inDepthNews/idUSL0357005220080711?sp=true
  

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