The very core of running a profitable retail business is finding the right product at the right price. In a perfect world, a business provides the best quality at prices it’s market can shoulder while still bringing in enough income to keep the cash flow positive. It’s a delicate dance that changes with the seasons, with the economy, even seemingly with the wind itself.
With so many factors beyond the control of the business owner, it’s important to keep tight control over the factors that are within the influence of the purchaser. Specifically, this means minimizing the costs of getting the product into your store in the first place by eliminating the middleman (like drop shipping companies) and buying your stock direct from a wholesaler.
For the first time entrepreneur, however, finding a wholesaler is often easier said than done. The Internet is rife with useless websites promising everything but giving very little. Even in this day and age, there are many wholesale companies that don’t have an online presence at all. So, how does one find wholesale products?
Narrow Down Your Search Criteria
Before you even begin, have a specific idea of what it is that you are looking for. There are literally millions of products on the world market and you will quickly become overwhelmed if you don’t have a specific idea of what you are looking for. For example, instead of “ jewelry” narrow your search down to “sterling silver,” then “rings,” then maybe even “semi-precious”, “southwest style”, or “antique look.” The more specific you get, the easier it will be to find what you are looking for.
Also, don’t forget to define your target market. Hopefully, you have already done this when you wrote your business plan, but if you haven’t do it now. To continue the example from above, will young teen girls be buying your jewelry, or will you be marketing to the over-50 biker crowd? This will further define both the style and the price point in your search.
Check Out Your Competition
Now that you have a clear idea of what you are looking for, take a look at other retail businesses in the same industry. Chances are they are selling products similar to what you’d like to sell.
Looking around at what other businesses are doing has two distinct advantages. First, if they are near by you can get an idea of what products they buy, if the store seems to be doing well or struggling, and brainstorm on ways to differentiate yourself from their model.
Second, for those businesses that are far away (and thus, not your direct competition), the owner may be willing to share their sources with you. It never hurts to ask! If they are willing to reveal this information, be sure to delve a little deeper: are they happy with their wholesaler? How long have they been with them? Are their terms fair?
How to Find Wholesale Products
The Yellow Pages
First stop, now that you know what you are looking for: the yellow pages. It’s obvious but many people don’t think about it. Search for “Wholesale” and then your product category, such as “cleaning supplies” or “backpacks.” Hopefully you will find suppliers close to your home town to minimize shipping.
If you need to expand your search range, then use general search engines, such as google.com or yahoo.com. Use the same search criteria as above, but beware: there will be many retail locations that advertise “at wholesale prices.” This may be true, but very often you can find better deals.
When you have a specific company that you’d like to see represented in your store, contact that company directly. The information is usually found on their website (if they have one) or, again, the yellow pages. Some companies will only sell their products to one location in a region to maintain scarcity; often these manufactures have a program through which they establish buyers as “authorized retailers.” This gives both you and the manufacturer a competitive advantage, so look for these arrangements whenever possible.
Whether or not you have a specific company in mind, make sure to attend at least one trade show in your industry. Trade shows are full of wholesalers eager to meet up with retailers like yourself who are looking for direct sources. You can meet the representative face to face, get a good idea of their terms, and often see or sample the products that they have to offer. Make sure that you have plenty of business cards on hand!
To find a trade show online, simply search “[product category] trade show.” For example, searching “Specialty Toy Trade Show” brings up several sites, each with up to a dozen shows all over the United States. Attending is expensive, so make sure that you plan ahead and know what you’re looking for and how much you are willing to spend before you even walk onto the floor.
Online Wholesaler Database
Last on the list are online databases such as Alibaba.com. Some are worldwide, others just ship from within the U.S. Be sure to pay attention to the shipping point, as receiving goods from international sources can be prohibitively expensive. Other wholesaler databases include Global Source (http://www.globalsources.com/) and Buyer Zone (http://www.buyerzone.com/).
Indirect Sources of Information
Be sure to join any applicable trade organizations, as they are wonderful at keeping you up to date with the most current events. They often have mailing lists, exclusive guides, and other resources. If there are relevant trade publications, be sure to subscribe to those, as well, as wholesalers often advertise through them.
Last, but not least, remember why you choose this business in the first place.Your passion will translate into your products, so be smart, stay flexible, and have fun!