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  • Writer's pictureBen Chu

The Factory Salesgirl : Understand your China supplier

Updated: May 5, 2020

It is at 1 pm in a factory located in Taizhou. In a dark, small office of 6, while most of her colleagues are having their afternoon nap, Jenny is an exception. Already she has had a long morning. She checks inventory in the warehouse herself as she cannot get a reliable figure from her ERP system. Then she sends an email to her customer to explain all the quality problems of the last batch. Although she is as tired as everyone, she learned to develop a habit of skipping afternoon nap (which is very common for factory staff). Instead, she spends her precious rest time logging in an online learning platform, where she is having lessons on the trading business. She continues her study back to dormitory in the evening and weekend, as she doesn't easily access other entertainment in this remote industrial zone.  

This is her first year after graduating from a local college, and life is not much as expected. Jenny, who does not call Jenny out of work, was graduated in English major for her bachelor's degree. Born in the late '90s, Jenny sees her career in a way far different from her parent's generation. Instead of merely money-orientated, she is looking for something more. "This job allows me to understand the world better," said the 23 years old. "We are the 1% of Chinese who could fluently communicate with the world in English. Opportunity is ours".

Icicle, another "salesgirl" who quit and rejoin the international trading industry within a year, sees her career differently. "I love to travel, but not the typical tourist type of it. This job allows me to explore the world than any other else."  Working in an office in Huaqiangbei, downtown in Shenzhen city, Icicle enjoys the work-life balance style that the job could offer. After 6 pm, she could leave office and go to her dancing studio, where she spends a couple of hours with her friends for their favorite activity.

Young people who work as an international trader, usually referred as "Chinese sales girls" by oversea customer, is a community worth more attention. Experienced buyers would agree on the importance of having support from a good "salesgirl", as they are usually the only one you are able to contact in your supplier. Nevertheless, it takes some luck to meet a professional one who can really shoulder the responsibility of the linkage. By education, most of them are graduated from either English language or International business. Having said that, the core skills necessary for the real job, like business communication and manufacturing operation, are often missed in college education. "It is virtually starting from zero," said Jenny. "Textbook in school tries to give us a bird-eyes view on everything, but end up it is not practical to our daily work. That why I need to pay for my online course." Last year Jenny spent about 10K RMB ( ~ 1.5K USD) on learning online, which is almost two months of her basic salary. "Not only the money you spend, but also the quality time you gave up to spend on studying online. For me, it still worth. I hope to start my own business before 30, so I need to make sure myself competitive".  

Being an average junior international trader could be tough. According to our questionnaire in January 2020, of 2000 respondents of all ages and years of trader experience, 40% of them earn less than $15K per annual (before tax). For those living in major city like Guangzhou and Shenzhen, cost of living pressure is nothing negligible. Except for salesperson working in factory, most trading company does not provide their staff with dormitory. They need to look for their own shelter by either living in the most remote possible location and spending more than 1 hour commute time for work, or look for roommate that is not too disturbing. And in most cases, both. "I share my apartment rent with 2 other girls, and each of us spends 1300 RMB ($185) per month for rent. Not too bad". Said Icicle who choose to work in Shenzhen, one of the most expensive city in terms of cost of living. "I can still manage to save some money for my future. I think working as SOHO could be a good idea for a longer-term."

Despite low salary, poor working condition and high pressure, the international trading industry is still attractive to the young generation. Although the internet and financial sector are getting to be the top layer of young Chinese career choice, other reasons like world culture, freedom and travel are still good factors that made international trading a great option. Today, while entrepreneurship sprite is hot among younger's mind, trading worldwide offers an excellent opportunity to start a business. With 3-8 years of experience, a junior trader could have achieved certain level of success in their career. Some become key management of a factory, some enjoy being a top sales and refuse to take up management roles, while some decided to start their own trading business, either with a team or as a SOHO, which means one-man-band working from their home. This is a colorful career, as it always is.

By Ben Chu

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