Beyond the Build

Commodities Pricing

A Global Perspective on Procurement

1-22-15 Option 1Last week, one of our managers traveled 23 hours to Guanghzou, the manufacturing center of China. The reason for his visit? Robbie was headed for Shinegolden Steel Craft Co, Ltd., a steel fabricator, to check up on a production of hot rolled windows and doors that we commissioned for a historical renovation project constructed in the early part of the last century, prior to WWII when hot rolled steel was the gold standard for windows and doors.

While a few small shops do still produce custom steel doors and windows in the U.S., it’s no longer mainstream and comes with a boutique price tag that didn’t fit this development’s budget.

Fortunately for the project, our customer is multi-national and brings a global perspective to procurement. It was his recommendation that we source the windows from China and have them container shipped back to the U.S. While over the years we have bought product from Northern Europe, this was our first experience with sourcing directly from China. During this process, we have learned these lessons:

  • Stay on top of quality control. Expectations can be different overseas. We’ve found there are three main ways to ensure the product is what you anticipated.
    • Use technology, CAD, photo and video overcome the language barriers.
    • When critical, try to hire a local third party to recommend and inspect.
    • Put eyes on it and conduct mill inspections, which is why Robbie was in China, although I am not sure why he was gone a whole week.
  • Find the right freight forwarder. Container shipping from China to the U.S. is a precarious business. With the volume of items being sent out, it can be very difficult to find a spot for a single container. Our representative is our advisor and advocate, and also served as our interpreter in meetings.

While this process has been more labor intensive for these unique doors and windows, the savings proved to be more than we could pass up. The customer will receive a “period correct product,” and we got an education on world of international artisan materials.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.