Chinese New Year, falling sometime between January 22nd and February 19th each year, can be a rocky time for designers, developers, and product launchers. Every time this holiday rolls around, I see two things happen:
- Businesses, unaware of the timing, hit the ground running after our New Year, only to fail hard and fast because they were not aware of how the Chinese New Year interrupts and affects business flow.
- An increase in calls as the panic sets in among the designers, kickstarters, and developers, once they realize their timeline didn't account for the month long shutdown of their manufacturer and supply chain.
Global Experts in manufacturing, Genimex, pushed out a blog post to let the market know what happens during Chinese New Year and I decided to have a deeper conversation with their CEO, David Chitayat, who is based out of Shanghai, about the broader impact Chinese New Year has, especially when it comes to small businesses, designers, and launches.
Kickstarters Be Careful
We all know the effect of our New Year. Energy renews, and everyone is ready to hit the ground running. It's that time of year where we are going to "go for it", we are going to "make it happen", and we barrel, full steam ahead, into a giant black hole. Okay, maybe that's a tad exaggerated, but I cannot tell you how many Kickstarters or campaigns promise a timeline in January-February that, just based on expertise, I know they are never going to be able to keep.
Of course it isn't only Kickstarter. There are business launch campaigns taking place around the world this time of year, where designers and developers want to start the year off right, without understanding how much they are shooting themselves in the foot by the timing alone. Mr. Chitayat and I put our decades of experience together to come up with this list of do's and don'ts for you when it comes to surviving Chinese New Year.
Let's Start with the Don'ts
- Don't Overcommit. Mr. Chitayat told a story about poor planning, in which they didn't want to turn down an lucrative contract with major brand Rubbermaid. He over-committed on the timelines and found himself, with his team, mid-winter, in a warehouse with a chain smoking manager as they attempted to advocate for getting their products out on time. The problem is that, during this time, the workforce is reduced, production slows way down, and the skilled workers are gone. This also brings into question the quality of the end result, which, as Mr. Chitayat pointed out in his case, was subpar at best. This would have killed the business, had it been a new launch or small start-up.
- Don't Be Silent. I over communicate leading up to Chinese New Year. I plan weekly video conference calls because, all it takes is a few days to make it or not.
- Don't Wait to Pay. When I am dealing with smaller startups, we try to be the first money in right after the holiday. Even though this is incredibly risky for small launchers, unfortunately, this is what it takes to get in the queue.
- Don't Rush. There will be times leading up to the Chinese New Year, during, and even after, that you send communication into a weeks-long silence because there is nobody on the other end. While administrative staff tends to be gone for less time, you still have to account for this slow down. Building out a conservative timeline is the only thing you can do here. Planning is so essential because, no matter how many times your manufacturer tells you, "we can do it", you should still expect the delay, no matter what.
- Don't Panic. This is the time a lot of launchers believe what they are doing just isn't working and they throw in the towel, not realizing what they are actually up against: understaffed warehouses, slowed/stopped manufacturing, an entire turnover and reset of the manufacturing warehouse staffs.
The Do's Are Equally Important
- Understand Your Logistics. "Oh, I'll worry about shipping once I get the order." But by then, it will be too late. It is critical that you: a) book your space early; b) understand that the biggest clients get priority; and c) know that space is limited and it is first come, first served.
- Assess Your Manufacturer. A lot of manufacturers have their hearts in the right places. They want to tell you that they can do everything, and they will try to do everything. It will be up to you to properly assess the demand, commitments, and ability. This is where it gets dangerous, because they are naive and excited, and you are naive and excited, and there's no balance to the rosy picture and the real picture.
- Know Their Process. And their culture for that matter. Are they taking all aspects of your design and manufacturing needs into account? Or are they going to figure it out on the way? If you have an everyday product, no big deal. If you have something more technical and new, careful thinking is required.
- Research Their Success Rate. How have their past partnerships done? Do they have a high completion rate? Do they have long term or repeat clients?
- Have A Ground Contact. Manufacturers outsource, they change their workers, they change their processes, and this may affect your product and outcome. But you might never know exactly where things are going wrong unless you have someone on the ground, on location, who can drop in and take a look. A lot of these issues, in my experience, are easily resolved, when there is an expert on or near location who can run interference.
- Hire An Expert. So many launches fail because the designer or inventor is an expert in their product but not in Chinese holidays or manufacturing. The best money you can spend on your launch is the money where you secure its future by protecting your process with someone who knows the process, who has lived and breathed the process, who can navigate the process, and who has plans in place for when things go wrong.
The effects of Chinese New Year are not only on production and shipping slow downs. This broad impact on the financial sales viability of brands and products is a necessary part of the launch planning conversation.