Our company is fortunate enough to work with a very large retailer in the US. I was visiting the city of this retailer’s headquarters last week on unrelated business so I thought “You know, I’ve never actually met our buyer Todd and seeing I’m right there, maybe I’ll see if he wants to have a quick bite to eat and finally put a face to a name.”

Veiled behind his response of “I’m afraid I won’t have time,” I could hear Todd asking himself, “That is so strange. Why would this Dave guy want to have lunch together?”

Contrast this last year on a trip to Ningbo, China. I had been working with a supplier, Fei, for about a year and had never had a chance to meet him. His factory’s location was about two hours from Ningbo and so I thought I would go to his city and meet him.

Unfortunately, he was going to be in Germany the week I was coming, although he was flying back into Shanghai at 6 p.m. on Thursday, while I was leaving the following morning on Friday.  Despite the horrible timing, Fei came directly to Ningbo after a fourteen-hour flight, arriving around 9:30 p.m. at our hotel, all for a brief 30-minute meal. The man looked like he had walked all the way from Hamburg!

Being married to a Chinese woman and spending several weeks a year in China, I’ve come so accustomed to Chinese culture I often find myself thinking the differences in Western and Chinese culture are overstated. However, when I step back and contrast situations from time to time, I realize how significant the differences can be.

The moral of the story is that even with Western educated sales associates and more KFCs than America, China is still a vastly different country. And oh yeah, make sure to visit your suppliers at least once or twice a year.