Dealing With Chinese Brewing Equipment Manufacturers

My job every day is dealing with Chinese brewing equipment manufacturers . I help clients connect and communicate with suppliers Plus, work through the quotation and buying process, as a brewing project is put together.

The process generally follows the same steps:

  • Client reaches out, asking for help
  • I send out my 13-question document which I ask people to answer so, I can understand the scope of the project
  • We have initial first phone call, once I’ve reviewed the answers (usually takes around 45-minutes for the call)
  • I put together an equipment list to fulfil the needs of the project
  • Client and I discuss the list, refine it and lock it in
  • I’ll get quotes from several reputable suppliers contacting manufacturers who can complete the project within the specified budget.
  • Get quotes and review them with client
  • Narrow down the list speaking with the chosen suppliers, working with both manufacturers and client
  • Work with the client to choose one supplier, then finalize equipment, layout and design
  • Once the client is happy, go ahead with putting a deposit down

Sharing Tips from My Experiences

Typically, this process takes about a month from initial contact to putting down a deposit. It’s an involved process, but as I’ve done it many times. I can streamline the process for the client.

Furthermore, I can guide and educate the client, as we go through the process too. As I also run a production brewery, I often refer to, and share pictures and videos with the clients. To answer any questions they may have.

In this post, I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned going through this process many times.

The goal is to make it easier for those reading, to deal with Chinese brewing equipment manufacturers. If they are planning a brewery project by themselves.

Furthermore, we’ll highlight some of the common pitfalls people experience, when going through the Chinese equipment buying process.

Dealing With Chinese Brewing Equipment Manufacturers – Research

Before, approaching any Chinese brewing equipment manufacturers, do your research first.

These days there a plenty of online forums where you can get feedback and testimonials. From people who have bought equipment from different manufacturers.

Dealing With Chinese Brewing Equipment Manufacturers - Do your research
If you don’t do your research you can get screwed

This should allow you to put a shortlist of potential equipment manufactures together. You can then reach out to these manufacturers, asking for contact details of their previous customers.

Any respectable manufacturer will be happy to provide contact details. You can then reach out to these breweries to chat, ask for videos and picture of the equipment they are using.

Furthermore, it might be possible to visit a brewery, who has equipment made by one of the manufacturers, you’re interested in using.

Many breweries these days buy Chinese equipment. So, a brewery close to you may have kit you can inspect and chat with the brew crew about. This will help narrow down your list of potential equipment suppliers, to continue talking too.

Another option is to reach out to me, I’d be happy to make introductions to reputable suppliers I trust. Whose equipment I’ve personally used, or equipment, people in my network have brewed on.

I first came to brew in China in 2010 so, know the equipment manufacturing market very well.

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Dealing With Chinese Brewing Equipment Manufacturers – Visiting the Factory

This was an option many brewery owners took, before Covid hit. The opportunity to visit brewing equipment manufacturing plants. To inspect equipment made, to narrow list of potential suppliers.

It allowed brewers to see the work of each fabricator, and have face-to-face conversations. To get a good sense for each supplier, before choosing one company to make the equipment for the brewery project.

As many of the factories are close together, it’s easy, and relatively cheap to visit a few places. The two main centers of equipment manufacturing are Ningbo and Jinan.

Ningbo, is known for making better quality equipment. However, equipment made there is more expensive.

Unfortunately, due to Covid, visits to China are currently not possible. However, I offer the option to visit equipment factories, on behalf of companies looking to buy brewing equipment.

I can send videos, photos plus, have video calls with clients and inspect equipment of their behalf. If this is of interest to you, please feel free to contact me.

Dealing With Chinese Brewing Equipment Manufacturers – Respect

To talk about “RESPECT”, may seem strange. However, I think it’s important, as I’ve seen many people approach purchasing from China with the wrong attitude.

They think Chinese equipment is cheap and out to get a deal. Yes, Chinese equipment is cheaper that Western made kit, for a number of reasons. I explain why Chinese equipment is cheaper here.

It’s true, you can negotiate on price. However, often the price a manufacturer quotes is competitive to begin with. You see, the competition between manufacturers is fierce.

Furthermore, the competition is only getting tougher. As more companies enter the market. Often an employee splits from a parent company, to set up their own operation.

Often the “new company”, is a re-seller, with equipment still made by the old employer. The Chinese brewing equipment supply market, is a minefield for the uninitiated.

From my experience, if you try to bargain too hard; manufacturers in a bid to say “yes” and close the sale may cut corners to save money. If they do; you might not even know. You’ll just end up with sub-standard equipment.

Here’s A Quote From An international Sales and Marketing Expert Who Deals A lot With China

More than 90% of the problems arising between European and Chinese companies result from differences in culture and mindset.

You have to learn to really listen and hear what your Chinese partner is telling you as the signs may be rather subtle. This is critical if you’re purchasing something because you don’t want them to cut corners to meet your price.

Many Chinese companies get the reputation for shoddy work because they agreed to deliver at a price which simply wasn’t feasible but didn’t want to lose face by directly saying “no” to their client.

The language barrier is a real thing. If somebody doesn’t seem to understand what you’re asking them, don’t just repeat it.

Reframe the idea or rephrase your question until you’re sure that everyone is on the same page. Drawing diagrams can really help, be it on a flip chart or a napkin.

If you can build strong relationships with your Chinese partners then you will have support for the long term.

Don’t back them into corners so that they lose face, but think of ways to let them feel good about doing business with you. That shouldn’t be at the expense of your interests though.

Kathryn Read of KathrynRead.com
Dealing With Chinese Brewing Equipment Manufacturers - Building Chinese Relationships

The Best Suppliers Don’t Compromise

Now, the better manufacturers will never compromise and hold firm. They aren’t looking for a quick sale. Instead, they understand putting out good equipment, and building their reputation, leads to word-of-mouth referrals. So, much better for their overall business.

Furthermore, if you keep pushing the price, you’ll simply annoy the person within the company you’re working with. This person may not show their annoyance, it’s a cultural thing. However, chances are, they’ll start to shut down and become less helpful.

I’ve heard stories from people approaching me to assist them. After a bad experience with a less than reputable supplier. Unfortunately, there are some sketchy companies out there.

The Opposite Is Usually True

If you approach the sourcing of equipment as a partnership, with respect. You’ll have a better experience plus, often end up with a good deal too. I’m not saying there isn’t some wiggle room when working with a supplier. Just never push it too far.

Approaching the process as partnership, in my experience results in getting the equipment best suited to the needs of the project. Plus, the overall experience will be less stressful to boot.

For example, the shipping container project, I’ve been working on, has gone through many iterations already. We started with a 1,000-liter brewhouse, in a regular building.

Making A Brewery in A Shipping Container - Brewhouse Layout
This was the original brewhouse design

The project had progressed quite far, but then the client was approached by the local government. Who pitched an idea to my client. The client saw a great opportunity, in working with the local government

The local government proposed making a container brewery instead. To be the centerpiece of a regeneration project, they wanted to create.

Dealing With Chinese Brewing Equipment Manufacturers – Show Respect and It’ll Go a Long Way

We had to scrap all the work we had done to this point. Go back to the drawing board, to plan a 500-liter brewhouse to be placed across two shipping containers.

The client was open with the manufacturer and I. We all understood the situation and wanted the new project to work.

As the client was respectful, and we were all invested in the project, we made the switch smoothly, and been working on the container project since.

I’m now working hard with the equipment manufacturer, to deliver the project. We’ve been working out the kinks.

To ensure the project meets the client’s needs, within the constraints posed by housing the equipment in shipping containers.

With the client maintaining respect with the manufacturer, and being honest throughout this extended process. The manufacturer is heavily invested in the project, wanting it to be successful.

As changes were made, it required some extra bits of equipment. The manufacturer offered some of these smaller pieces of equipment for free, to push the project forward and a gesture of goodwill.

Dealing With Chinese Brewing Equipment Manufacturers - Be respectful and it will help your project
Being Respectful Will Only Benefit Your Project – This Isn’t All The Free Stuff

Another Project

I had a project where the client was always pushing for a discount. It made the project hard work. I had to use a lot of diplomacy, to keep the project moving forward.

The manufacturer just wanted to stop the project, as they felt disrespected. To reach the price the client was prepared to pay, would have meant compromising the project.

Compromised to an extent, the system the client would have received, would have been extremely hard work to use.

The manufacturer wasn’t trying to “screw” the customer. The manufacturer looked for ways to cut the budget. Like using a cheaper heat exchanger, as well as cutting corners elsewhere.

The manufacturer was upfront saying the changes could be made. But he wouldn’t recommend doing so. The client was happy to make the changes, but he lacked a deep enough understanding of what these changes meant.

I truly believe the client would have got a brewhouse he’d have hated to work with, if we had pushed ahead with these drastic changes.

Making the changes to get the price down wasn’t what the manufacturer wanted or felt comfortable with. They didn’t want to deliver a brewhouse like this.

Sometimes The Client Isn’t Always Right

It would have been at the price the customer liked, but not the system he truly wanted. With some effort, I was able to explain why the original quote was prices how it was. How the extra cost made the made brewhouse much easier to work on.

Fortunately, I was able to get the client to understand the situation fully, eventually. Being too price conscious would be detrimental of the whole project.

The client had got it into his head, the manufacturer was being unhelpful, and not listening to him.

Dealing With Chinese Brewing Equipment Manufacturers - When A Conversation Goes Wrong
Smoothing over conversations between client and manufacturer

As a go between I was eventually able to figure out a compromise, which worked for everybody. The net result was a system fabricated, which met the client’s needs within a budget he was happy with too.

If I hadn’t been there, I think the project may have been a failure. A lot of the conversation between the client and manufacturer had been lost in translation.

In reality, there wasn’t a big issue. They were simply annoyed/frustrated so, not listening to each other. I managed to smooth it all over and the project was a success.

Lost in Translation – Dealing With Chinese Brewing Equipment Manufacturers

Yes, things can get lost in translation. It can be a minefield for some of my clients. Like the conversation shared below:

Dealing With Chinese Brewing Equipment Manufacturers - Lost in Translation
Some things can be lost in translation, fortunately I was able to smooth it all over

The client didn’t understand the meaning of the manufacturer. When the meaning is missed, it can lead to frustration and anger.

The client shows his anger/frustration to the manufacturers and communication worsens.

Furthermore, you have the whole concept of “face” in China. Here’s an excerpt taken from an explanation of “face” from thoughtco.com.

Dealing With Chinese Brewing Equipment Manufacturers - The Concept of Face in Chinese Business

Now, I’m not saying you have to tread on eggshells, when dealing with Chinese manufacturers. You’re still the customer, trying to get brewing equipment which fits your needs.

However, having some understanding of the culture of the person you’re talking with, will help smooth out the whole process. When dealing with Chinese suppliers especially when discussing technical equipment, can make conversations tough.

I assure you the Chinese supplier is trying hard to understand and communicate their thoughts to you. Both sides can become frustrated, leading to tempers flaring.

In many Asians countries being confrontational, seeking a “yes or no” answer doesn’t go down too well. It’ll not help the situation. Instead, it’s best to try and reframe the discussion. Much like Kathryn said in her quote above.

How I Deal with “Being Lost in Translation

What I usually say is something like…

“Hey, I didn’t quite understand your meaning before. Can we try and clarify the situation please? My understanding is if we do this, then this will happen, could you explain it further to me please?”

Then they will give an answer…

Then I’ll say something like this…

“What if we wanted to have this outcome? How we would we do it, can we do this for example?”

This approach allows the supplier to understand what needs doing, and they’ll will work with you to find the solution.

I understand this process takes a little more time to get to the solution. However, at no point is there a confrontation, there’s no loss of face, and pretty quickly a solution which works for everyone, will be found.

Also, the initial re-framing of the question to clarify the situation, often reveals a misunderstanding at the beginning and there’s actually no real issue.

Using Simple Diagrams Can Clarify and Move a Project on Quicker

There’s a reason why people say “a picture can speak a thousand words”, it often makes communication 100 times easier. I frequently create simple diagrams to speed up the communication process, when putting a brewing project together.

It allows me make a point clearly plus, both sides can make changes to the diagram as they see fit. It’s quicker than trying to explain in words something technical, to everyone involved.

Here are some simple diagrams I’ve put together recently:

Dealing With Chinese Brewing Equipment Manufacturers - Using Diagrams to Explain Myself
Diagrams and photos shared to help a project move forward

You can use diagrams like the ones above or make some simple hand drawn diagrams, take a picture and then share them within the group.

Honestly, once I started to sharing diagrams, I never looked back. it’s really made sharing information on a project so much easier.

Dealing With Chinese Brewing Equipment Manufacturers – Timings

When it comes to timelines, it takes time to fabricate equipment and send it overseas to the client. Please take a look at the table below.

Dealing With Chinese Brewing Equipment Manufacturers - Timelines
Lead times of equipment given to me by three manufacturers

This table shows how long it takes to make a brewing system and send it to Europe or the US. I asked three different Chinese manufacturers and these were the figures they gave me.

Furthermore, as we said before it takes around 30-days to put a list together and lock in the equipment needed with a manufacturer. All in all, it’ll take about 4-months from the initial contact to when the equipment lands in country.

It might take some time to clear customs and to be delivered to the exact location too. Realistically give yourself 6-months from when you need the equipment, to begin the process. Manufacturers in China will hold on to the equipment for a few months if needed.

However, these days with many global uncertainties (such as Covid in China). Shipping may be delayed so, allotting extra time is sensible.

Payment Terms – Dealing With Chinese Brewing Equipment Manufacturers

When it comes to paying for the equipment. Never pay 100% upfront, I know this seems obvious. However, I know a guy who did this before and I couldn’t believe it.

In my experience the breakdown is something like this:

  • 30% of total price within 5 days after signing the contract (and before production begins).
  • 70% by time of transport
  • 10% to be paid after commissioning on site (sometimes companies allow this option so you’d pay say 60% at trasnport)
  • The seller pays for installations services
  • Accommodation afforded by buyer on site

Each manufacturer has different terms with the terms being somewhat negotiable. Most suppliers list their terms when they send your quote to you.

Shipping

When it comes to shipping the quote often include to the price to the closest Chinese port. You can ask the manufacturer to use their regular shipping company to send the equipment to the port closest to your location.

The quote will not include import duties and any taxes applicable on arrival. This is standard in the industry.

Often clients find their own freight company, it’s really up to the individual. You still then need to organize road transport to the location of the brewery too.

Installation/Commissioning

When it comes to installation before Covid, Chinese engineers from the manufacturer would go to the location to oversee the install. In this case the customer would pay for all travel expenses, accommodation and food.

Now with Covid, the manufacturers if needed will assist you in finding a local company who can help with the install. Again, all costs will be covered by the customer.

In some countries like the US, many manufacturers have a regular companies they collaborate with. As they do a number of installs a year. It really depends where you’re based.

You can cover this issue in initial conversations with the brewing equipment manufacturers.

After Sales – Dealing With Chinese Brewing Equipment Manufacturers

The subject of “after-sales” is also something you need to consider when doing your research. Some equipment makers are inherently superior to others.

If I’m being honest, I’ve heard some horror stories when it comes to after-sales support. For example, see the pictures below, of some really bad craftsmanship.

Dealing With Chinese Brewing Equipment Manufacturers - After Sales Support

This was a supplier out of Jinan, which one owner sent me complain about equipment he had made. The guy wasn’t my client, but was annoyed and wanted to see if I could help him after the fact.

This unscrupulous supplier’s reply to the guy when he complained was…

“Well for the price you paid, what do you expect, we’re not going to help you…. goodbye”.

Getting bad after-sales support fortunately, is less of an issue than the say even 5-years ago, when it comes to the Chinese Equipment industry.

So, to reiterate, as part of your research ensure you choose a manufacturer which offer both great customer support AND aftersales service.

You have equipment manufacturers like Bespoke Brewing Solutions (BBS) who offer, “first rate customer support”. Not my words, but those of brewers who I’ve spoken to.

We work towards mitigating issues during the design and inspections phase, but if problems arise we work with the client to find a solution with haste.

It helps being on the ground here in China and speaking Chinese as we can work with suppliers quickly to get the information needed quickly.

Our clients have been amazing as they understand issues will arise and what they want to see is quick responses and progress towards a resolution.

John Gonzales, Bespoke Brewing Solutions
John's Quote - Bespoke Brewing Solutions

Dealing With Chinese Brewing Equipment Manufacturers – Conclusions

I’ve spent the last 12-years or so of my life dealing with Chinese equipment manufacturers. Since my first brewing gig for Bad Monkey Brewing of Yunnan in 2010.

The market has evolved since then, hundreds of breweries around the world now purchasing brewing equipment from China every year. There are many equipment manufacturers to choose from.

So, I hope the advice I’ve shared here, allows you to make a more informed decision on your project. My main takeaways are:

Research: Finding a good equipment manufacturer – Offering solid equipment and customer service

Testimonials – Always speak with previous clients of manufacturers

Have a better knowledge of what to expect – From cultural differences to timelines

How to approach communication with suppliers – Don’t push for the lowest price and use diagrams/drawings

Payment terms – Never pay 100% up font! For very small one-off item, you may pay all upfront. But for a full turnkey project, never.

Need Help with Your Brewery Project?

Now, you can try and go through this process by yourself or…

Allow me to assist on your upcoming brewery project. I’ve 25-years of brewing experience on a number of brewhouse system. Working in both brewpub and production breweries on all manner of equipment.

Furthermore, I’ve done a number of brewhouse installs plus, helped people get their systems operational too.

I’ve spent the majority of the last 12-years of my life in China, involved in the brewery and brewing equipment industry. So why not utilize my experience on your brewery project?

Please feel free to email me at:

neil@asianbeernetwork.com

Or use you preferred network to contact me. Simply scan the relevant QR code below, add me and message me directly.

Thanks for reading and have a great day.

Neil Playfoot

Neil is a brewer with 25 years international brewing experience. Based out of China (first came in 2010) he works as a brewing consultant helping brewers with their projects and brewing processes. To find out what services Neil can provide your brewery please click here. If you'd like to contact Neil you can email at neil@asianbeernetwork.com.
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