If you’ve followed my previous posts, you’ve probably found a product you want to sell by now, or even a list of potential products. Now the real fun begins: it’s time to order some samples! This is your opportunity to test out the products in real life, and more importantly, to test out the supplier! Your relationship with your supplier is critical. I can’t say enough good things about my suppliers (plural, as product #2 arrived in the Amazon warehouse today!) and I will let you know the process I went through to find them.
If you want find a manufacturer in your own country (unless your country is China), you will probably just have to use a search engine. Be sure to check beyond the first few pages; many manufacturers are great at what they do but not so great at search engine optimization! If you are going into a niche with a lot of regulation surrounding it (such as beauty products, supplements, or food) then you should probably stick to local suppliers to avoid any hassle.
Choosing a Supplier from China using Alibaba
I decided to source my first few test products from China, because frankly, I had so many product ideas and finding manufacturers in the USA overwhelmed me. I AM currently vetting American manufacturers for a future project, however. [If you want a great business idea, please make a website like Alibaba for the American market and remember who gave you the idea when you’re a billionaire (it is totally possible, and I’d take it on, but I’m trying to keep my Shiny Object Syndrome under wraps)]. I digress…once you search on Alibaba for a particular product (and I wouldn’t recommend any other site as there aren’t many with a good reputation), tick all 3 boxes to the right of “Supplier Types”: Trade Assurance, Gold Supplier, and Assessed Supplier. What these 3 boxes mean are that they accept payment through Alibaba’s super-secure payment system (it’s like PayPal), that they’ve got a good reputation, and that they’ve been checked by a 3rd party inspector, respectively. It’s a good way to narrow down the options as it can be a bit overwhelming (sorry my screenshots are looking a bit crap; I’ll come back and fix that!).
Next, look at the options that are left. Do you notice the “sponsored listing” in grey at the bottom of this listing? The first 5 or so options will be sponsored and they may or may not be the best options, but you may want to scroll past them.
The most important information is on the right side of the listing. Pay particular attention to the response rate; you’ll want someone who gets back to you every time you write. If you see something below 80%, don’t even bother with them. You don’t want to be out of stock and your supplier is MIA. The “Transaction Level” indicates the historical order sizes the supplier has fulfilled, and the amount of transactions and money listed give you the same information.
Now to the left side of the box…I’ve found it doesn’t actually mean a whole lot. The price you will be quoted will be somewhere within the range, yes, but often the cost per unit range will look something like “$0.01-6/piece” (that’s a pretty significant difference per unit!). The minimum order is almost always negotiable. You may not be able to customize as much as you’d like if you go below the number they list, but if they’re not willing to work with you if you go below their MOQ, you may not want to work with that supplier.
Contact a Supplier
Once you’ve picked a few suppliers whose products you’re interested in, click “Contact Supplier” and send them something like this:
“Hello [name of contact listed],
We are a [insert your country]-based business which specializes in [insert niche] and we are interested in your [insert product name]. Can you please provide some more information?
-Can we please order 5 samples, and how much will it cost? [Having multiple samples is great for checking consistency in workmanship and you can always sell them on eBay or give as gifts]
-We are interested in custom labeling. Do you charge to add a logo?
-What is the per-unit cost for various quantities: 100 units, 500 units, and 1000 units for example?
[insert your name]”
I’ve seen many suggestions for very different approaches, for example pretending to be the secretary reporting to a strict boss. Personally, these kind of suggestions leave a bad taste in my mouth and my rule of thumb is that if I wouldn’t do it in my own country than I won’t do it dealing with people who live anywhere else. I believe if honesty and kindness is what you put out there then that’s what you’ll get in return and so far it’s proven true.
After you’ve opened up communication with a few suppliers (I would recommend contacting 3-5 per product) then you will have a bit of back-and-forth. You’ll likely be able to narrow down your favorite supplier quite easily! Ask for any photos you want to see. If you’ve seen complaints on Amazon about a certain feature your competition has, ask about modifications. Consider the quality (such as material) of the products they provide, cost per unit, and very importantly, the quality of communication with the supplier. If they get back to you after 2 weeks, forget about it! Then order your samples from one or two favorite suppliers.
Once you’ve gotten your samples, test them in every way the customer could possibly use them. Ultimately, the reviews you get will be the determining factor in the longevity of your business, so make sure you’ve got a quality product. Drop them, launder them, run them over with your car (okay, maybe not all three). Inspect the workmanship carefully, and compare between samples. If you’re happy, you may have found your supplier! If not, you may need to keep looking and repeat the process with another supplier. I ordered samples of more products than I probably needed to do, but if you’ve really done your homework on the product you want to sell, you shouldn’t need to order many.
Next, I will show you how to set up your Amazon seller account!