Exploring your options to manufacture products in India? In this article, Daniel Ben-Ezra from the India office of Pro QC International, explains what importers must know before shifting orders from China to factories in India.
Here are some of the topics Daniel covers in this comprehensive guide:
- Which products can (realistically) be manufactured in India today?
- Which products should I not be sourcing in India today?
- Alternatives to Alibaba.com when sourcing Indian suppliers
- How do MOQs in India compare to China?
- How do prices in India compare to China?
Which products can be manufactured in India today?
A wide and ever-increasing variety of items are being produced in India today:
- Tools, Fittings, Hardware Items
- Home Appliances, Kitchenware, Home Décor
- Garments, Leather, Handicrafts, Textiles, Glassware, Fashion Accessories
- Mechanical Parts & Components
- Electrical Parts & Components
India is traditionally known for labor-intensive product categories such as garments, leather items, handicrafts, and fashion accessories. That may prompt some to assume that the country is not that strong with more knowledge-intensive products and components but that is not necessarily the case.
Specific products that can be sourced competitively from India include for example rugs and carpets, garments, towels, scarves, leather bags and jackets, pliers, lamps, wire harnesses, hinges, stainless steel bowls and other kitchenware such as cutlery, brass fittings, tables, chairs, door handles and much more.
What types of products should I not be sourcing in India?
Due to international competition (mostly from China), there are certain product categories that are not produced locally in India and would be imported either complete or in parts to be assembled in India (in combination with locally produced Indian components).
For US-based buyers, products that are assembled in India could be of interest to avoid the high import tariffs that would otherwise apply when importing from China. Home appliances are an example.
For a non-US based buyer, buying goods that are imported into India first only to be exported afterward would not make much sense from a cost point of view. Examples of such items are hand trucks, certain home appliances, motors, connectors, plugs, actuators, solenoid valves, cylinder pipes, plastic bottles, toys, stationery items, etc.
A lot of machinery is also imported into the country from places such as Mainland China, Taiwan and Japan and not made locally.
The government’s “Make in India” campaign has been providing incentives to international manufacturers to set up shop in the country which includes ones with more high-tech profiles. Foxconn is one such company that will start production of the latest Apple handsets in India this year. One can argue that India provides less and smaller ‘ecosystems’ than China, for example.
China structures its manufacturing base by creating clusters of sub-suppliers centered around certain geographical locations which are producing specific product categories.
Though this manufacturing strategy is certainly not as prevalent in India, we’re seeing positive developments in that regard supported by individual Indian states and the federal government.
In this ever-changing environment, it is difficult to predict which products should and should not be sourced so it is best to check with a sourcing or supply chain agent for the latest market developments.
Are there any alternatives to Alibaba.com for Indian suppliers?
The main Indian alternative for Alibaba is Indiamart.com. It allows easy access to a host of suppliers for countless product categories. Indiamart has actually helped countless Indian manufacturers to gain an online presence, supporting them in the development of their own website to be listed on Indiamart afterward.
The website can be used to find vendors of countless product categories and verifies sellers similar to what Alibaba does. An alternative to Indiamart is Tradeindia.com, though they do not have as wide a selection of products and sellers.
What are some other ways to find Indian suppliers?
The most accessible alternative ways to find Indian vendors from abroad are trade shows, sourcing specialists, agents, and simple online search. Trade data can also be purchased from companies such as Panjiva.com, Connect2india.com, and Importgenius.com – through which exporters can be found for specific product categories and associated HS codes.
More and more Indian companies are exhibiting abroad these days, so there may not be a need to make the trek to India to establish face to face contact.
However, in the case of a high-volume business or when requiring complex, critical parts, we would recommend visiting the vendor’s facilities to gain comfort in the supplier’s capability and to establish that always-important personal relationship.
If a personal visit is not an option, we recommend contacting a local agent as they would also have trade data and local partners that might not be readily available via a standard internet search.
If your order is small, say less than 5000 US dollars, one can take the gamble to go alone based on level of comfort as a result of communication and pricing, but it would always be recommended to make a deposit of 30-50% first and not pay the balance unless an inspection is performed prior to shipment through a 3rd party.
Make sure to inform your factory of a planned inspection also at the start so that they are on their toes and understand you are serious about quality.
How do MOQs in India compare to China?
That would depend on the product category. We’re seeing that for handicrafts, garments, and accessories, on average, lower MOQs may apply for such items in India compared to China. For product categories that are handmade or involve a high labor component as % of costs, in general, MOQs can be on the lower side.
If fabrics are in stock, even single pieces for garments can be sourced through vendors that are interested in taking on the business. This would even apply to for example lamps with unique, handmade designs, furniture items or carpets.
For industrial type products that require molding or other engineering processes, the situation is radically different, and one could be looking at MOQs of a container.
However, building a relationship with a vendor there can be beneficial. We are seeing that order volumes can be negotiable and can also depend on a factory’s capacity that is utilized at a given moment.
Can I expect lower unit prices when importing from India?
That would again depend on the type of product, in combination with several other variables. India is not necessarily a lower-cost production destination.
Labor costs may be lower than China for example, but in combination with lower productivity and logistical and infrastructure challenges, your products may not come out cheaper especially when a very high level of quality required.
The country does, however, offer many diversification possibilities for those firms who no longer want to put all their eggs in one (Chinese) basket.
Further, due to India’s relatively high import tariffs for most items, local production would allow a company to more cost-effectively tap into the ever-increasing domestic market for their products.
Note also that it is not uncommon for an Indian vendor to offer attractive pricing at first to “lock-in” a buyer, only to slowly increase pricing afterward.
Specific product categories where we do see price advantages as compared to China, for example, are brass fittings, hardware products such as hinges and doorknobs, steel and zinc castings, garments and handicrafts, leather goods such as wallets, carpets, etc.
In my experience, it can be quite a challenge to get a quotation from Indian manufacturers. What should I do to improve my chances?
In our experience, building a relationship is absolutely critical. This may require visits to the country and establishing that face to face understanding as a foundation for future endeavors. If you do not have the ability to pay a visit nor have a local presence on the ground, working with an expert sourcing company or third-party quality control service provider is highly recommended.
Lastly, and often overlooked: a buyer must also provide an interesting level of volume or development for the Indian vendor to show interest.
Indian manufacturers may appear less ‘hungry’ for your dollars or euros than Chinese vendors.
If a buyer wants a level of engagement to match what they are used to in China, for example, values and volumes should reach a minimal level. Again, in order to do achieve this, we highly recommend to personally visit each factory or engage an India-based sourcing partner.
Lastly, one practical tip is simply to not give up and continue to try to reach the right contact person and speak with him/her over the phone to try to expedite the process. This next to the email reminders you may also be sent. It is not necessarily unwillingness that communication is not smooth, your contact person may be traveling, it could be a holiday and festival period, etc.
Decisions are made at the top though, so try to reach as high as possible in terms of the contact person.
Do you notice any difference between India and China in terms of quality issues?
Generally speaking, Indian factories have less experience serving the global market via exports than the Chinese. This implies that some suppliers may be less familiar with “Western” quality standards and requirements.
In the case of handworks, such as accessories, garments, and handicrafts, there will also be more variety in output than for mass-produced items. That would be something to keep in mind when deploying a 3rd party QC company for example or if you’d be inspecting the items yourself.
Otherwise, in general, the actual types of quality issues or defects are largely the same from country to country and that adage holds true for India.
What can I expect in terms of production time and other lead times?
Lead times in India are generally slower than one would expect to find in Mainland China, Taiwan or Vietnam. The main challenges in this regard are related to Indian infrastructure. Infrastructure not only implies the speed of moving goods around the country but also electricity supply and seasonal variables.
These variables can come in the form of labor productivity, holidays and festivals and even force majeure events such as flooding during the Monsoon season.
India is near the top of the list in terms of the number of public holidays and weather-related extremes, so it is always good to understand these elements in the city and state where your good are being produced.
Pro QC International Ltd.
Pro QC International has maintained a presence in India for nearly two decades, providing a variety of quality solutions to both local and international clients. Our nationwide network of qualified and knowledgeable engineers allows us to offer custom and cost-effective quality solutions to meet clients’ needs.
Our experienced team is available with little notice in case support is required for inspections, factory audits or supplier management. Further, in light of the current global trade and tariff challenges, we offer a variety of tailor-made services specifically for those companies that are looking to shift or are in the process of shifting their supply chain to a country such as Vietnam.
This includes supplier identification research as well as recruitment support for critical roles.