When it comes to importing products, China always comes first to our mind. Actually, there are many other Asian counties can be a good option to import products. But most people don’t have much experience in importing from other Asian countries besides China.

Especially we are at the period of a trade war between China and The US when America has raised tariffs on many products imported from China. So, the question is, would it be possible for us to seek lower costs and more opportunities from other Asian countries? I invite the founder of Chinaimportal Frederick to share his experience on how to import from Vietnam.

Actually, Fredrik and I are old acquaintances, I remember the first time we met was in 2015.  At that time, it was seldom to see anyone sharing blogs about how to import from China except for a few bloggers like Chinaimportal. Fredrik’s articles inspired me a lot and I began to consider sharing my experience of importing from China on website. Ok, let’s dive in our interview.

Jing: I know that you have been helping people importing from China for many years. What interests me is that you also help them import products from other Asian countries. Can you talk about which Asian countries you have imported from? And what are the product categories separately?

Fredrik: I’ve been monthly to Vietnam since late 2017 to learn more about what’s going on there and identify opportunities for our customers. This was driven by the fact that we saw more of our customers show an interest in other manufacturing countries in 2017. That said, it’s quite limited in terms of what’s available.

Among our customers, they have only been importing apparel, PE tarpaulins and stainless steel laser cut tooling at this stage. Furniture is also big in Vietnam, but a lot of the materials are actually imported from China.

Our customers also import from India and Thailand, but it’s a fairly small number. China is still the top manufacturing destination for our users, followed by Vietnam.

Jing: Comparing to China, what are the advantages of importing from Vietnam? What are the best products be imported from Vietnam?

Fredrik: Last year we worked on a new type of pillow with a client with a factory based in Ho Chi Minh City. They did a good job, but when making samples they had to order a lot of materials, including foam and velcro from China. This resulted in pretty long lead times, and there was no real cost saving either – but the factory was good and our client enjoyed to visit Vietnam.

The fact that many nationalities don’t need visas to visit Vietnam also makes the country more accessible, as they can just jump on a plane to meet factories. For China, it can take a few weeks to arrange a visa.

Another situation was for a certain steel tool. That type of steel, from a high-end EU based steel brand, can be sourced easily in China. But, when they wanted to get prototypes made in Vietnam, the supplier had to import the steel sheets from Singapore.

The primary benefit of Vietnam is that it’s not China. With the trade war heating up, that’s a pretty big deal to American companies, but some other importers just don’t want to work with Chinese suppliers. They assume it’s easier elsewhere, even if that’s not true.

That said, there are many good Vietnamese factories in these categories:

  1. Textiles
  2. Furniture
  3. Handicrafts
  4. Accessories
  5. Bags
  6. Construction products (e.g. tarpaulins)

Electronics are also a big export for Vietnam but don’t expect to find a huge ecosystem of OEM electronics suppliers like you find in Shenzhen.

The export numbers are largely driven by MNCs like Samsung and LG, and they are obviously not interested in mini projects from startups. But I expect this to change in the coming 5-10 years.

Jing: To import from Vietnam, is it better to find a trading company, sourcing agent or a factory? What are the advantages and disadvantages of these three suppliers in Vietnam?

Fredrik: I’d say those sourcing companies are very valuable in Vietnam, as long as they work in a transparent way and give you access to the factory. It’s quite difficult to access supplier information in Vietnam, where Alibaba.com or other B2B directories are not as prominent.

Trust me, you really value Alibaba.com and Globalsources.com when you try to find suppliers in Vietnam. It’s quite opaque, which is fine for big companies that essentially build their own factories – but not as easy for small buyers that rely on existing factories.

The other option is to work directly with a factory, which often requires that you visit them first.

I’ve found that most Vietnamese factories are not nearly as accustomed to managing communication online as those in China – most likely because Chinese factories have been on Alibaba.com for so long.

Few of our customers that manufacture in Vietnam managed to get started without visiting the factories.

I have no experience with Vietnamese trading companies though, but I prefer to work with local service providers, such as Vietnam sourcing agents, or directly with the factory.

Jing: If you want to import from Vietnam, how to find suppliers through the internet and how to find physical suppliers? Do you have any fairs to recommend?

Fredrik: That’s where it gets hard. You can find a decent number of Vietnamese factories on Alibaba.com and Globalsources.com, and there are also a few local ones:

  • Vietnam-manufacturing.com
  • Vietaz.com
  • Vietnamesemade.com

That said, it’s a lot more efficient to meet suppliers face to face at trade shows. We recently published a list of Vietnam trade shows on our website.

Jing: Is there any bad Vietnam importing experience or some distinct differences from China importing you want to share with our audiences? Are there any points we should pay special attention to when importing from Vietnam?

Fredrik: The main issue with Vietnam, at the time of writing, is that you may not find factories for your product. Take Watches for example. I tried to find suppliers there but couldn’t find a single one. Not one single factory!

If you’re big enough you can invest a few million dollars to build your own factory, but small buyers can’t do that.

As such, whether you can buy from Vietnam really comes down to which product category your brand if focused on, and whether there are factories for that.

Other than that, you’ll find the same challenges as you do elsewhere. Vietnam is not better or worse than China when it comes to quality risks.

Jing: You know there is a trade war between China and The US in recent year. The US has raised tariffs on many products imported from China. So in your opinion, what kind of products can be better to be imported from Vietnam instead of China for American importers?  And for what kind of business model, importing from Vietnam will be a better option?

Fredrik: Again, it really comes down to whether factories for your product exists in Vietnam. If you’re in textiles, and you can reach the MOQ requirements, then Vietnam may be a good option.

This also applies to certain types of jewelry, furniture, and bags.

But, if you’re buying electronics, watches, plastic toys or a range of other products – you’ll find it more difficult – if not impossible – to find existing factories in Vietnam.

It simply comes down to your product.

Jing: Besides Vietnam, you also mentioned importing from India. Compared with Vietnam and China, which categories of products imported from India can be more advantageous? Can you share your recommendations?

Fredrik: For the record, I have far less personal experience with India than do with Vietnam. For starters,  I have not been to India. But, we have customers that have solid suppliers manufacturing products in these categories:

  • Textiles
  • Stainless steel products (mostly jewelry)
  • Bags

A major advantage with Indian suppliers is that they speak English as a first, or strong second, language. That makes communication a lot easier. There are also many old Indian factories, with decades of experience, and a strong quality tradition.

Jing: If there are some people interest in importing from Vietnam, will you help them? And what will you do to help them?

Fredrik: Yes, we provide them with Vietnam supplier directory lists and help them manage the process, including quality inspections in Vietnam, lab testing (which is still done in China) and shipping from the main ports – including Ho Chi Minh and Hai Phong outside of Hanoi.

We get so many questions about manufacturing in Vietnam these days, and not only from Americans but it depends on whether factories exist for their product or not.

It may change in a few years, but for now, most of them must either choose between not launching a product or buy from a Chinese factory.

That said, the overall process is the same. You still need to get your technical specifications and quality assurance process right no matter if you buy from China, Vietnam or India.

Hope this interview can give you some inspiration on how to import from Vietnam and make your Vietnam importing business easier.