Editorial: Waiting for China
There was a story in the news the other day about the first ship going through the new section of the Panama Canal that has been widened and deepened to accept the new classes of super-sized container ships.
By Patrick Flannery
The ship that went through carried over 9,400 shipping containers. It was returning to – you guessed it – China. In 2010, I took a trip to Shanghai. We approached the airport over the immense harbour on a clear day. Below, I could see the gigantic blue expanse of the Pacific ocean stretched out from horizon to horizon. And filling that space, lined up in a perfect grid on the surface (thanks to GPS positioning) were hundreds of container ships like the one above waiting to enter the harbour. It was the first of many experiences on that trip that brought home to me the incredible wealth and industry that passes through a country of a billion people, and the relative insignificance of our economy here.
It seems inevitable that our rental stores will be carrying an ever-increasing amount of Chinese-made equipment going forward. Already, many of the components in the American and European equipment we buy are made in China. There’s an ongoing stigma about the supposed poor quality of Chinese equipment, but I don’t think it is entirely fair. After all, this is a country with intercontinental ballistic missiles that has put astronauts into orbit. The technological and engineering expertise to make a superior skid steer certainly exists over there. The reason we get their cheap stuff is because that is what U.S. and Canadian-based manufacturers and distributors have elected to import and sell here. An anecdote I heard on my trip explains the phenomenon: in China, the answer is always, “Yes.” If a manufacturer approaches a Chinese company asking for widget X to be produced at price Y, the answer is “yes” no matter how low price Y is. But quality slides accordingly. The fault for poorly made Chinese products in this market lies not with Chinese manufacturers, who are just doing as they are asked, but with their OEM customers and/or North American distribution partners who choose to use them as cut-rate producers to absorb a larger mark-up. Chinese manufacturers can be engaged to make some of the highest quality and most advanced products on the market – look at Apple.
The lingering concern in dealing directly with Chinese exporters is level of support you can expect to receive. The language barrier is one problem, and waiting for parts to be shipped around the world is another. This is why you won’t find many products offered for direct sale by Chinese (and other overseas) companies featured in our product showcases, despite the frequent emails I receive to promote them. While I can’t guarantee the quality and support behind every individual product we feature, I can evaluate the manufacturer’s commitment to serving the Canadian market. Sending a free email from across the planet does not qualify, in my mind, as a strong investment in supporting Canadian rental stores. My rule of thumb is to insist that a manufacturer at least have Canadian representation in the form of sales staff or a distributor before passing along their information to your attention.
I hope Chinese manufacturers learn to do a better job of producing, supporting and promoting their best products in our market. More choice and lower prices are better for everyone.