Vietnam is becoming one of world’s premier manufacturing powerhouses. Many top international brands like Adidas and Samsung now use Vietnam as their largest base of manufacturing and product-sourcing.
If you are interested in sourcing products from Vietnam, you need to think outside-the-box to get an edge over your competitors, as only a small percentage of Vietnam’s vast pool of manufacturers are available on B2B marketplaces such as Alibaba or Global Sources. Relying on these sources limits you to just a few well-trodden and maxed-out suppliers.
Therefore, in this post, we detail some less-than-obvious ways to find high-quality Vietnamese suppliers, factories, and manufacturers without resorting to online B2B websites — some are clever online tools, some are boots-on-the-ground tips. Either way, use these outside-the-box sourcing tips to circumvent the usual channels that your competitors are already using.
SEE ALSO: Part I of this post dedicated to online B2B marketplaces like Alibaba and Global Sources for finding suppliers in Vietnam.
1) Big Companies’ Suppliers & Factories in Vietnam: Nextdoor Competitors
Source high-quality goods from the competitors that neighbour Big Companies’ suppliers
There is a trend for giant companies like Adidas or H&M to disclose their suppliers and factories, as part of a “supply-chain transparency” campaign. These companies have dozens of big and small suppliers throughout Vietnam, and you can use this information to find potential suppliers as well.
Big companies can afford to disclose their suppliers because they have iron-clad Manufacturing & Supply Agreements — these contracts often contain “exclusivity clauses” and/or “most-favoured nation” pricing which ensure that no other party can get as favourable terms as Adidas or H&M. You may try to use the same supplier, but the odds are not in your favour.
Instead, you can use the competitors which neighbour the Big Companies’ factories. This is important for Buyers because a little known secret about Vietnamese commerce is that for every successful business, there are usually 2-10 high-quality copy-cats that spring-up in the same vicinity as the pioneer business.
Often, the competitors are literally right-beside each other in an open and shameless act of copying each other’s business. This is due to weak IP laws, high lateral-movement of employees, and an overall culture of copying. If you’ve never been to Vietnam, you likely can’t imagine how fiercely and shamelessly competitive Vietnamese business is.
Once you locate where big companies source their goods in Vietnam, you’ll need to conduct additional research about neighbouring competitors. You can tour the neighbourhood via Google Maps (which can reveal a lot of information about competitors) or physically tour the neighbourhood on foot (recommended) and literally walk into factories to do informal discovery. You can also search on Facebook for businesses in that neighbourhood (Vietnamese businesses love Facebook; read more below…)
2) Source from Traditional Manufacturing Villages
An untapped pool of suppliers
Small-businesses are more flexible and diverse — they also tend to concentrate in “manufacturing villages”, instead of industrial-parks. Therefore, a sure-fire way to find suppliers is to visit traditional manufacturing villages or handicraft villages (see map-locations around Hanoi here), especially for sectors focused on domestic-consumption and/or traditional crafts.
In contrast to businesses located within industrial parks, these villages contain factories and suppliers who are often small- to medium-sized family-run operations embedded within real towns. Their craftmanship has been honed over many generations; and their business-centres rose organically to serve the consumptive needs of wealthy Vietnamese.
The advantage for Buyers is that such villages typically have a very high-concentration of high-quality manufacturers for a specific product-group, with a lot of competitors — often, the entire village is dedicated to a particular craft. For example, there is the wood-carving village of Dong Ky that makes luxurious wooden furniture, or the bronze-casting village of Đại Bái, or the silk village of Van Phuc, or the bamboo weaving village of Phu Vinh.
READ MORE about Vietnamese manufacturing villages including maps and directions to villages around Hanoi.
Such suppliers are often very willing to do more custom-designed products. They often have informal operating procedures (like ad hoc verbal agreements, and children running around the factory, or a mix of home and business). Some of them are becoming more sophisticated and export-oriented, doing mass-production for small brands across the world. For example, the bamboo weavers of Phu Vinh make trendy purses for independent fashion brands in Europe. Other villages have become bigger manufacturing hubs with modern, industrial-sized factories. For example, the fabric village of Ninh Hiep has a number of tiny tailors as well as hundred-person professional factories.
Although these manufacturing villages don’t necessarily offer the preferential tax-treatment of Industrial Zones, it is an open question whether some of them even pay tax. Often, these small manufacturers benefit from mixing home and business resources in a classic family-based bootstrapped operation.
3) Google Maps: Searches for “Xuân” and “Công ty” to Locate Suppliers
Google maps can be an initial step in discovery and due-dilligence
There is surprisingly a lot of information you can glean from potential Vietnamese suppliers and factories just by using Google Maps. Search for “Xuân” (factory) and/or “Công ty” (registered company) on the outskirts of cities and ports or other well-known “manufacturing villages” to find a list of candidate manufacturers. Often, it is the workers who organically geolocate the business, verify the business details, and post reviews.
On Google Maps, you can quickly learn things such as:
- contact info, such as companies’ official websites and phone numbers;
- concentration of similar suppliers within a town;
- translation of workers’ reviews and complaints; and
- professionalism, as inferred by uploaded photos.
This information is very helpful in the lead-up to more boots-on-the-ground discovery. In particular, finding one supplier via Google Maps often leads to two to three competitors within the neighbouring vicinity: as we’ve mentioned above, Vietnamese businesses in the same sector tend to physically concentrate next to one another (and some are unabashed copies of their neighbours).
For example, check out the concentration of garment factories near Ninh Hiệp, which can be easily found by searching for “Xuân”.
After finding the name of several potential suppliers, if they don’t have an official website, search their name on Facebook — the Vietnamese love to use Facebook for commerce, including as a messenger with customers (read more below).
4) Vietnamese Trade Associations
Collect contact-info about suppliers and their product-keywords from member-lists
To find active businesses, it is a well-known tactic for sourcing-agents to scrap the websites of Trade Associations for member profiles (called Hiệp Hội). For example, the Vietnam Handicraft Exporter Association has a directory of over 525 members who are handicraft exporters! Some organizations, like VITAS, have very detailed contact information, company profiles, and even company brochures showcasing their products and capacity.
Most of the businesses are mid-to-large companies; many are publicly-traded corporations (called công ty cổ phần in Vietnamese).
Click the bar below to see a list of Vietnamese Trade Associations with suppliers and manufacturers:
Associations have an incentive to keep their membership-rolls up-to-date, so as to only promote due-paying members — this makes them a great way to mass-surveil on the status of active businesses in Vietnam. However, we spot-checked the URLs and phone numbers of some of the members in the above lists, and we had a dismal success rate. Nonetheless, even if the contact info is out-of-date, such companies often do exist — therefore, to find these companies, you may need to do a little Googling and/or reaching-out on Facebook.
5) Industrial Parks & Export Zones in Vietnam
Tax incentives and good infrastructure attract big suppliers to Industrial Parks
There are over 320 industrial parks in Vietnam. Industrial parks are little ecosystems of industrial activity with special tax incentives (such as a 10% corporate tax and/or zero tax for the first 4 years) and infrastructure incentives (preferential electricity prices, upgraded waste-water treatment plants, waivers on land-lease fees, dedicated security and firefighter services, etc). Often, industrial parks are situated in close proximity to ports or airports. Some are situated in economically disadvantaged rural areas.
In contrast, Vietnam’s Export Zones are little free-trade fiefdoms which allow manufacturers to import materials without paying high Vietnamese import tariffs. Export Zones are only for making goods for export (whereas goods imported back into Vietnam will pay a steep tariff). Therefore, finding factories who are located within export zones can offer competitive pricing, so long as the goods do not require physical handling/processing within Vietnam-proper.
SEE LIST of industrial parks in Vietnam: go to Visit viipip.com for a curated list of industrial parks in Vietnam, including size, amenities, location, and more.
Part of an Industrial Park’s incentive program is to facilitate “trade promotion” — this means (theoretically) that there are dedicated personnel with whom you can liaise in order to find suppliers and manufacturers within an industrial park. Their promotional websites are often poorly-maintained and broken, but may have a list of manufacturers within the park and/or contact information for interested Buyers.
For example, the large and mature Tan Phu Thanh Industrial Zone outside of Ho Chi Minh City has a bare-bones online directory of its constituent businesses. Can’t find a business’s contact info directly? Chat with the Tan Phu Trung personnel to help get the key people to talk to (+84 934 910 919) or email email@example.com.
Tax & Infrastructure Incentives at Vietnamese Industrial Parks
Each industrial park has its own tax incentives and infrastructure schemes. The following is a representative example from the the Dong Quat industrial park (the largest planned park in Vietnam, as of December 2022), near Da Nang. It offers incentives like:
- 4-year corporate tax exemption, plus 10% corporate tax thereafter for 15 years, plus 50% tax reduction for 9 years thereafter.
- Duty-free import of specialty equipment, machinery, and construction materials which cannot be produced in Vietnam (for long-term assets only).
- 5 year duty-free import of consumables & short-term assets which cannot be produced in Vietnam.
- Exception for Export Duty – only applies to a few natural resources exports.
- Sector specific value-added tax: either 0%, 5%, or 10%.
6) Facebook Groups & Marketplaces for Suppliers
Vietnamese small businesses love to use Facebook for promotion, customer-messaging, and product listings.
Vietnamese small- and mid-sized businesses love Facebook:
- Facebook Groups serve as unofficial Trade Associations to share information, network with other members, and broadcast opportunities like new product launches;
- Facebook Marketplace is used to power businesses’ online stores and provide product-visibility;
- Vietnamese businesses use Messenger to communicate directly with customers; and
- Vietnamese businesses update their Facebook profile more regularly and with greater effectiveness than their own dedicated website.
If you’re looking for a supplier’s contact info and can only find out-dated information on other directories, chances are that a quick search on Facebook will review a more up-to-date profile, as well as an effective means to connect directly with the business.
Facebook Groups for Vietnamese Suppliers
Facebook Groups are like moderated private forums where members can post and share information — like Reddit but slightly less scammy. Postings are often rich in pictures and links to company profiles, as well as integrated “translate this” functionality so you can read Vietnamese-only posts. You can subscribe to the FB Groups and interact directly with members.
Facebook Groups may be especially interesting to Buyers who are looking for new, small, untapped manufacturers and suppliers that do not yet have a big promotions-megaphone. We were able to quickly find up-to-date posts from small suppliers offering: white-label backpacks, stylish ornamental tiles, wood-composite office furniture, cermanics, watches, Polo-shirt knock-offs, urban street-wear, and much much more.
You can also post a request for solicitation, and quickly get offers and quotes from lots of active members.
Here are some example Facebook Groups dedicated to promoting suppliers and manufacturers in Vietnam:
- Vietnamese Suppliers – Manufacturer in Vietnam (22.9k members, private) https://www.facebook.com/groups/vietnamesesupplier
- Vietnam Wholesale Clothing (15.1k members, private) – https://www.facebook.com/groups/1832309533582801/
- Sourcing VietNam (2.1k members, public) – https://www.facebook.com/groups/313966829768731
- Import and Export Vietnam Business (23.9k members, public) – https://www.facebook.com/groups/373720230224626/
- Wholesale Vietnam Supplier (12.6k members, public) – https://www.facebook.com/groups/wholesalevietnamsupplier/
- Vietnam Import & Export (10.k members, public) – mostly dedicated to agricultural and fisheries products https://www.facebook.com/groups/bestICPO/
SCAM ALERT: Vietnamese scammers are adept at using Facebook to coerce expats to posting how much they love so-and-so. There are fake reviews from legitimate foreigners for scam services. A common coersion tactic is to say “My uncle works for the immigration department — he can get you blacklisted from Vietnam if you don’t post a good review!”
The point is that testimonials and reviews are very suspect on Facebook (or anywhere else in Vietnam).
Facebook Marketplace – Search Directly for Vietnamese Businesses
Facebook marketplace is like a more sophisticated version of Craigslist/Kijiji/Gumtree — businesses can build a FB page and post their product offerings in a typical marketplace-carousel interface, including product pricing.
As a Buyer, you must search via keywords (e.g. “wholesale”) for a specific city plus 500km (especially try Ho Chi Minh and/or Hai Phong). You should set conditions like “new”. Thereafter, you can browse dozens or hundreds of product-focused postings by (so-called) businesses, including pricing information and contact information.
Although the Facebook Marketplace can seem like the Wild West of scammers and amateurs, the fact is that many authentic and legitimate Vietnamese businesses use FB Marketplace as a primary promotions and sales channel.
It is a great tool to quickly screen potential suppliers according to pricing.
7) Freelance Sourcing Agents — Flexible & Useful for Screening Suppliers in Vietnamese
Hire a Virtual Assistant on Fiverr to do basic due-dilligence
Vietnam has a byzantine legal system and a history of socialism. Therefore, if you are bootstrapping an import business and want to commercially transact with Vietnamese entities, you should enlist the help of a local confidant, preferably as soon as possible (see our commentary about Vietnamese business culture). One possibility is to hire a freelance Virtual Assistants (VA) through portals like Fiverr.
There are even VA’s who specialize in finding Vietnamese suppliers. For example, see the pictures above which show a few gigs to do research on 2-3 Vietnamese suppliers for $75-125 USD per gig.
This is valuable for reasons other than their main offering (afterall, their “research” is probably just a 5-minute search on Google.vn or Alibaba). A Virtual Assistant is most valuable as a scout and icebreaker, possibly using messenger Apps like Zalo which foreigners don’t have acces to. A VA can quickly help you avoid 80% of the unworkable suppliers, saving you time.
For instance, you can hire a Fiverr assistant to text with suppliers and quickly establish a few key points about their business:
- What is their MOQ and price per 500 units? 2000 units? 5000 units?
- Do they provide samples, and will they send them to your country?
- Do they provide an official Certificate of Origin and other trade & shipping documentation?
- Will they put your label on their product?
- What are their payment terms?
- Do they have an exclusivity agreement with another brand?
Of course, you could do this on your own via email, but the hit-rate for email communications is much lower than having a local Vietnamese call or send a text-message over Zalo. The Vietnamese love to do things by phone. A Vietnamese helper can get a lot done by simply calling a supplier.
8) Trade & Export Data [Paid Service]
Pay for proprietary data about who is exporting to whom and for what price.
Some market-research firms collect detailed export data from ports and customs authorities. Such proprietary datasets must be purchased, but for professionals with a small budget, you can get very detailed information about shipments, including:
- HS Codes
- product description
- price per unit
- payment terms (e.g. LC, TT)
- export and import companies
… and more.
Not only can you get the names of suppliers and manufacturers by HS Code, you can also get pricing information including actual payment terms and unit-prices paid by importers. This can give you a fair range of prices and payment terms when negotiating with other suppliers in Vietnam.
There are plenty of trade & export data providers and aggregators, including:
Disclaimer: We do not endorse the quality or veracity of information affored by trade-data providers.
Online B2B Marketplaces & Business Directories
Everyone has heard of the Chinese tech-giant Alibaba and Blackstone’s Global Sources. These B2B marketplaces have sleek interfaces to browse thousands of wholesale and white-label products that you can mass-order from Asia.
But, there are a few lesser-known (and lesser quality) B2B marketplaces and business directories that you can use to find alternative suppliers –even some which are specifically focused on Vietnam. To learn more, see our dedicated post on the topic: Best B2B Marketplaces to find Vietnamese Suppliers & Manufacturers [Alibaba Alternatives].
Sourcing Companies Focused on Vietnam
We’ve highlighted several creative ways to find suppliers that circumvent popular and well-trodden B2B websites that your competitors are likely using. Such investigations are merely the first step in a more-thorough visitation and inspection process to establish trust and begin negotiation.
READ MORE: List of Vietnamese sourcing companies
At some point, if you are not a professional sourcing specialist, you may need to enlist the help of a proper sourcing company — someone from Vietnam who can audit factories, conduct product inspections, verify certificates, review contracts, assist with negotiation, and help with shipping. Most importantly, they can help you navigate the inscrutable world of Vietnamese business culture.
We have a list of professional sourcing companies focused on Vietnam here. We are NOT affiliated with any sourcing company.