That article was widely well received and since I have been receiving letters from motorcycle trade people asking me to advise them on the best way to import motorcycle parts, so here it is.
Finding information on Chinese motorcycle parts exporters
Simple Google searches like “Chinese motorcycle parts” will reveal hundreds if not thousands of results. Some of these results will be of no use; they will be companies with localized custom, selling individual parts and spares to individual motorcycle owners. There will be enough Chinese parts and spares wholesalers in the first 5 or 6 pages to give you a large enough selection but don’t go too far along the results, the further down the list a company’s website is the more likely they are to be an unprofessional outfit.
In its early years the Chinese online shop service “Alibaba” was the answer to all parts importers dreams, now it is gorged with thousands of small parts trading companies and my advice is to stay clear of it (also services like “made in China”) and conduct the search on a search engine for the sake of your sanity.
One tip I can give you is to mention (when you write to the parts company) that their company was recommended to you by another one of their customers, this will get their immediate attention and you will find they’ll be extra attentive to you for fear of upsetting an existing customer; you don’t have to mention the name of this imaginary “customer”!
Motorcycle parts importers will be keen to contact the Original Equipment Manufacturers of the parts they require. This can be both advantageous and restricting, here I’ll detail why. On the negative side many OEMs are not completely equipped to deal with direct to the customer export; I have visited OEMs before that have employed over a hundred people, none of whom could speak English.
They will not put your inquiry at the top of their “to do” list as they prefer to deal with the traders (and the ongoing business they get from them) that you would probably already be using to buy your imported parts; the OEM will not lose any business by supplying the trader instead of you because you will be buying the product anyway.
It some cases the OEM will not have an export license forcing you to use the trader anyway. Another negative aspect about contacting an OEM directly is that they possibly only produce one type of product. If you need to import several different types of parts for a mixed container you could find yourself having to contact dozens of different OEM factories thus using up a mountain of time and energy; this is why many parts importers prefer to use traders to do this particularly time consuming (and always complicated) task.
If you have the organization and network to deal with all the negatives (the organization would probably include your own office in China with Chinese staff and an export certificate) then dealing with an OEM is a huge benefit. For one the unit price will be free of profit percentages put on by the trading agent and secondly you can be assured of the quality and consistency of the product.
To summarize, if you are a large importer of Chinese motorcycle parts it would be well within your interests to invest in an office in China and deal direct with the OEMs. If you are a smaller importer let the agent do all the work, but keep a close eye on them!
If you are dealing with a parts trader for the first time you obviously need to see samples of the products you require. When you have received the sample and deemed it to be what you need take the following steps.
When you receive your invoice insist on having a detailed photograph of the motorcycle part next to its description and price, do not pay a penny unless all pictures tally up with your requirement. This will give you full power if the trader sends you the wrong product as the part received will not be the same as the part detailed on the invoice and would leave the trader no room for argument.
Unfortunately photographs cannot give you evidence that the quality of the part is the same as the one you received as a sample but if the trader is a long established parts exporter he will want you to come back to him for further parts orders.
You can check your trader’s credentials by asking him to provide details of another customer (in a different country) so that you can contact them for a reference to his/her abilities, reliability and quality. If the customer is satisfied with the trader’s service they will be happy to tell you.
In some countries the import of motorcycle parts samples is taxable at customs as the products could be deemed to be resalable. An easy way around this is to ask your supplier to slightly break or deface the motorcycle parts prior to shipping. Ask them to do this in a way that will not distort the fittings of the parts but will convince the customs officials that it is impossible to resell it. This is completely legal and everyone should do it.
The Canton fair and CIMAmotor each have a decent selection of motorcycle parts on offer along with the hundreds of CBU motorcycle models exhibiting. If your trade only involves parts the best place to go is the bi-annual China Motorcycle and Parts show which is held in different venues each year (normally) during the months of April and October.
Details of this show are a bit tricky because the organizers are not really geared up for foreign visitors in terms of updating their English websites or replying to emails (a typical Chinese trait) but if you manage to get there you’ll be greeted by a seriously “unfussy” expo displaying hundreds of thousands of parts on hundreds of exhibition stands.
For any other advice on importing motorcycle parts or motorcycles from China write to firstname.lastname@example.org.