The market for PPE (personal protective equipment) is booming and, although many Western countries are starting to see positive progress against coronavirus, the need to buy these items is unlikely to dissipate any time soon.
But some importers have had trouble even getting Chinese suppliers to respond to their RFQs, so how can you improve your chances of being able to purchase what you need?
The PPE market is going nowhere fast
As we start to see a fall in hospital admissions, it may be tempting to think that the clamour for PPE will start to fall away, but that’s probably a false assumption.
- Hospitals will need to replenish their depleted stockpiles and keep more coronavirus-fighting equipment on hand to guard against a second wave, perhaps in winter 2020 or until there is a vaccine or effective treatment for Covid-19.
- As governments begin to lift lockdown restrictions, they are mainly advising some kind of social-distancing to remain in place for the foreseeable future, including the wearing of masks. For example, Forbes writes:
As parts of the U.S. begin to reopen, non-medical use masks, hand sanitizer and gloves for essential workers, nursing home residents and first responders are only in higher demand.
So a lifting of lockdown restrictions does not mean that demand goes away.
A seller’s market
With great demand comes difficulty for buyers, as Chinese manufacturers are under no pressure to seek new customers. The usual scenario where you can pay a deposit and then the balance when the order is finished has gone, with the majority of suppliers demanding 100% of payment up front and also EXW terms rather than the more favourable FOB.
The huge demand for their products means that, unless you’re able to quickly get their interest, it’s likely that they may not even bother to respond to your inquiries right now.
But you need to purchase PPE, so what can you do to get your potential supplier’s attention? Here are our tips based on what we’ve been seeing in the market since early 2020.
1. Use larger quantities
Don’t request, “1 million pieces this month, following by 2 million per month in the next two months.”
Go with the larger figure of “5 million pieces total, in 3 separate shipments of the next 2 months.” In addition, let them know that you have the “capacity to purchase 8 million pieces a month continuously”.
2. Be specific
Don’t contact suppliers giving them a list of items you want to purchase without any quantities, this gives them ‘too much work to do’ and suggests that there is no firm order in comparison with potential clients who come to them with precise requirements that they can immediately work on fulfilling.
The more specific your request, the better. Remember, Chinese suppliers actually don’t want to talk to a company that still in a bidding process.
3. Use detailed specifications
Same thing for “detailed specifications.” If it looks like an RFQ, no manufacturer will want to respond as they do not want to spare time for ‘fishing expeditions.‘
4. Supply proof that you’re buying for a large concern
If you have a letter of authority from a country’s health service, for example, and proof of availability of funds, these documents will help you find suppliers as they are more likely to take you seriously over who they would perceive as ‘smaller’ buyers.
5. Know what you need
Don’t ask suppliers what documents you need to do the import into your country! Not only is it very wrong (you take responsibility for putting these goods on your market, so you should be an expert at this), but also it screams “I am inexperienced”. Serious suppliers have no time to teach you the ropes, and unethical ones might take advantage of you.
Make sure you read our guides about importing face masks, for example. Much of this information is out there on the web, in free access.
A few warnings about entering this market
You will very probably have to send the whole payment in advance and be unable to get the manufacturer to sign a contract with you.
This has several implications:
- The supplier might raise prices unexpectedly, or change the shipment date
- The supplier might cancel your order and sell the products to a higher bidder
- The supplier might subcontract your production and/or sell you substandard products
Unfortunately, this makes the market a lot riskier than buying regular products from Chinese suppliers and there is little you can do about it.
Perhaps the exception to the above is if you are buying tens of millions of USD worth of products, and some brokers will be willing to finance the deals and take all the risk on themselves.
If you feel the risks are high and you don’t know how to mitigate them, the best might be to let professional buyers of medical products handle the purchasing.
Looking for help?
You might like our recent video where we share some tips for buyers of PPE & medical supplies from China: