The other day, I was having lunch with a friend who was planning to partner with a manufacturer in China. She said to me, "The company said I don't need to visit their facility. Do you think that's okay?"
I told her, "You need to get on a plane immediately."
Many businesses rely on email or messaging apps to communicate with their partners, but there's just no replacing a face-to-face encounter. Meeting the people you'll be working with, and touring their facilities or offices is a must.
You may have an amazing brand, a beautiful website, and top-notch customer service. But without a high-quality product, none of that really matters.
That's just one of several reasons why in-person visits are essential:
1. Your partners are an extension of your company.
I encourage others to visit their potential partners for a simple reason: What they do reflects on you.
Once you partner with someone, they become an extension of your brand. Their quality affects your quality. If anything goes wrong, it impacts your business.
When my co-founder Dave and I first toured different facilities in Asia back in 2012, there were some we had to disqualify right away. Bras are very sensitive garments, and even dust particles in the air can latch onto the fabric and ruin the product. So, the cleanliness and organization of the facility are paramount.
There were a couple times when we walked into a facility and immediately knew we couldn't manufacture there. They were dirty and unkempt, and we knew it would affect our product. If we had decided not to visit, we would have never seen those red flags.
2. You'll build trust.
There's only so much you can convey through emails, messaging apps, or occasional conference calls. And it becomes difficult to build trust when your methods of communication are purely remote.
When I worked at Aeropostale, I was struck by the fact that most of the production partners had worked with the CEO for 20 to 25 years, going all the way back to his time as a merchant at Macy's. His partnerships had lasted for decades because each side trusted the other.
It impressed upon me the importance of building relationships based on trust. And you can't develop it if you don't meet people in person, have lunch with them, get to know them on a personal level. You can't make that connection in an email chain.
3. You'll understand your partner's goals.
For any partnership to be successful, both sides have to benefit. That's rule number one. And it includes being cognizant of each other's goals.
To follow that rule successfully, both partners have to align their incentives. For example, some companies may not be looking to grow. They're already big, and they're not looking to expand their capacity. Does that work for you, or are you planning on scaling significantly as business picks up? Knowing the answer--and knowing your partner is on the same page--will help you avoid problems down the line.
Meeting with partners in person helps you get a sense of who they are and whether or not their goals align with your own.
4. You'll see the effects of your partnership.
I can't stress it enough--your partner's actions reflect on your business. If you don't visit and really dig into what's going on, you can end up in the type of PR mess that has plagued companies like GAP, Nike, and even Apple over the years.
On the other hand, if you take the time to visit and choose your partner carefully, you'll see the positive effects of that relationship. For example, one of our partners has two programs I really enjoyed learning about on my latest visit.
At the corporate level, they have a program that pays for women to get their MBAs at local universities. But they also have a really interesting and impactful program for the factory workers. These women travel far from their hometowns to live near the factory for most of the year. But when school gets out in the summer, they usually travel back home to take care of their children.
So, instead of managing this mass migration of workers, the company set up a summer camp for the children. That way, the kids could come stay with their parents during the summer, while still having plenty of educational opportunities, sports, and activities to keep them occupied.
And I actually got to speak with a woman who grew up on a rural farm in western China, but who brought her daughter to this camp year after year. Her daughter is now getting a college education but continues coming back during the summer to be a camp counselor.
Stories like this are something you're never going to see or experience if your only communication is through email. It may seem arduous, but there's simply no replacing an in-person visit to connect with your partners.