An Insight Into A Chinese Manufacturing Facility
As you may be aware from my previous blog post, How a Goat Turned Into A Lamb , either myself or our product designer regularly visit our Chinese factory to keep an eye on production, check quality of newly released products and to maintain the strong relationship we have with our fellow team members.
To save on costs, we stay in a spare room in a low cost apartment which we rent to house a few of our out of town workers. This time, our business partner Jacky asked whether I wanted to stay in a hotel as it was mostly below zero degrees and there was no heating in the apartment. I boldly said "if it’s good enough for the workers it was good enough for me". How bad could it be right?
Like every trip, more than 50% of my luggage allowance is taken up by gifts for the workers like Cadbury chocolate, Australian honey, Tim Tams, baby formula. As you can imagine, I feel somewhat of a smuggler, but of the good kind!
After lugging around 7kgs of chocolate in my hand luggage between 3 airports, I finally reach my destination where I am greeted by Jacky who is a lot more rugged up than me. (when I leave the airport I realised why!). By the time we get back to the apartment, I’d been awake for more than 24 hours due to long stop over between connecting flights plus a 4 hour drive from the airport to the apartment. All I wanted was a hot shower and to go to bed, except there was one important piece of information that Jacky omitted when telling me there was no heating…there was no hot water either! The hot water for the apartment runs solely off solar power and because it was winter and there wasn’t much sun, there was no hot water. Had I known that, I probably would have been a princess and asked to stay in a hotel, but I decided that I was here now and that I better just suck it up!
When I arrived at the factory the next morning, all the workers were happy to see me and I was warmly greeted with “Hello’s” and “Good morning’s” from everyone. I know they secretly like me more than Tony because I bring more gifts and we cook BBQs together. I think I have set a precedent with all the gifts and I'm not sure what I'm going to do as our workforce grows!
The first night for dinner we cooked on the Flaming Coals Cyprus Spit Deluxe Model. On the kebab skewers we had an array of; squid, chicken wings, corn, mushrooms, small bread rolls, lamb and pork. On one of the large skewers in the basket we had a whole fish. The small skewers kept on being eaten and re-skewered for over 2 hours. It was a great dinner full with lots of laughter and I am now an expert in eating chicken wings with chopsticks!
Jacky wanted to give the staff the opportunity to talk to me without feeling like their boss was watching over them so he went home for the evening and left me at the factory with the workers. While their English is limited, we managed to communicate without too many dramas. Google translate is a wonderful thing!
Of all the times I have visited China, I have always been too busy to have a look around and take in the culture and sites. One evening, 4 of the workers took me out for dinner and then spent a couple of hours showing me around their town. As it turns out, 2 of the workers can actually speak basic English and really came out of their shells. They were proud to show me around their town, showing me the historic sites and explaining the history behind each monument.
Our 40ft container was loaded with Spartan Spit Roasters, Minion Spit Roasters and Charcoal BBQs heading for Melbourne during the morning of the last day before our workers stated their Chinese New Year break. For lunch we cooked a delicious BBQ and gave out Chinese New Year bonuses. During the last day of production, Jacky and I were picking up rubbish, sweeping floors and sticking labels on boxes all to help the team finish early so we could celebrate together. As we were sitting down for lunch, Jacky and I had a quiet word reflecting on how far the business has come in the last 12 months. A year ago, owning our own manufacturing business in China was something that seemed unachievable, but Tony and I took a leap of faith, sold our house to raise the capital and put an immense amount of trust in Jacky that he could make it work.
While I am very proud of what we have been able to achieve in such a short timeframe, what I am proudest of is the difference we have been able to make in our workers lives. I have been to countless factories around China and in each one, the workers look miserable and are just going through the motions. Our staff are happy. They feel free to talk and joke to each other while they are working. They get together at lunchtime. They feel comfortable when Jacky and/or I work alongside them without feeling intimidated. In return, I can feel they have an immense amount of respect for us and are very loyal. Thinking about the environment and company culture we have created is truely humbling and makes me feel like I'm responsible for the quality of these workers lives, not just producing outdoor cooking equipment.
After lunch, we went out for Karaoke and dinner. Much to the disappointment of the rest of the team, I was the only sober one left by the end of the night.
During my 10 day stay, I gained a true appreciation of the hard work they do to deliver our products on time to the highest possible standard. When I visit, I like to spend some time working in the factory alongside the workers to learn their processes and how they operate. There were a few times where something small had been missed and instead of turning a blind eye and simply packing the product anyway, they stopped and actually fixed the problem.
While I was working with them, I intentionally let something that was not quite right slip through (a relatively small scratch) to see whether someone else would pick up on it....and thankfully they did. I was like a proud parent. This may seem like common sense to you and I, but this is certainly not the norm in Chinese manufacturing. You would not believe the substandard products we have received from other suppliers in the past and have had to fix the problems in Australia just to be able to sell them. Our staff have been trained to focus on quality not quantity. We have not placed unrealistic targets on them to process “X number of widgets” within a certain period of time. We have actually turned down requests from internationally customers who wanted us to cut costs by reducing quality as we didn't want to send mixed messages to our staff.
I can see that our staff genuinely take pride in their work and are doing their best to deliver high quality products for us. It has been this culture that we have worked so hard achieve since we opened our own manufacturing facility 12 months ago. I'm not going to say that we're 100% perfect because even manufacturing in Australia is not 100% perfect, however I am 100% sure no other imported BBQ product is made to the same standard as what we produce, whether it be from China, other parts of Asia or even Greece/Cyprus. (We used to import spit roasters from Greece however they wouldn't improve their quality to meet our stringent standards.)
Our diligent quality assrance processes and attention to detail has worked well for us with the Australian side of our business, however the increased costs involved with checking every detail and pre-assembling and disassembling each product prior to packaging means that the cost of our products are more than other manufacturers. Unfortunately this has limited our international growth as we look for distributors of the Flaming Coals brand internationally.I am a strong believer that "slow and steady" wins the race and that as long as we persevere and not compromise our culture and motto "Quality Before Quantity", Flaming Coals is poised to be a world-wide leading brand in Spit Roasters and wood fired cooking equipment.