Whether you want to operate an online store, sell on an auction website or open a physical retail location, you need to stock the shelves -- virtual or real. Unless you make your own items or have a service to offer, you will need to find a supplier -- or several suppliers -- to help you build an initial inventory. If you are interested in selling general merchandise, you have a great number of options. If you are looking to go more niche, your search will be narrowed. But either way, there are online and offline methods to located a supplier.
Finding Suppliers Online
Search for wholesale websites. There are online marketplaces and directories featuring individual businesses that offer wholesale prices to online and offline retailers. Some require a paid membership, while others put you in touch with specific suppliers.
Search for drop-shippers. Drop-shipping is a cost-effective way to start an online retail business. Margins are lower on these items, but because you aren’t warehousing or shipping items yourself, you save on startup and overhead costs such as inventory, rent and manpower. Through drop-shipping, customers order from you, but you submit orders to the company, which then fulfills the order. You never touch the product.
The most common form of drop-shipping is using a third-party company, such as Doba, which gives users access to thousands of products from a variety of suppliers right from one website. Also, some individual manufacturers offer drop-shipping directly, as an alternative to wholesale purchases.
Apply to be a reseller directly of brands you know. Many manufacturers offer qualified resellers wholesale pricing. If you have a particular product or product line in mind, contact the sales department of the company to find out how to become an authorized reseller. If the company does not offer that service, it is likely to point you in the direction of the suppliers that resell the items in bulk. Sometimes you can make these requests online; others require a phone call. Most often, you will need a reseller license.
Finding Suppliers Offline
Subscribe to a wholesaling magazine or catalog. Magazines such as Web Wholesaler offer listings and advertisements for suppliers, accompanied by helpful articles about selling online. These magazines often have integrated websites, which offer directories of suppliers. Aside from magazines, there are standard wholesale catalogs available from companies.
Subscribe to trade publications. If you plan to open a store in a niche industry, there is likely a professional organization catering to it. Do an online search for trade publications. Some require subscriptions, while others are free. Some may offer an online version. Since this publication is within your niche, suppliers will advertise here. Be sure to check both the display ads and the classified ads in the back.
Attend trade shows — in your industry or general shows. Similar to subscribing to magazines surrounding your industry, attending trade shows and expos in your area of expertise is a way to gather information. These events put buyers face-to-face with wholesalers and suppliers. The largest wholesale trade show is ASD, produced by the Nielsen Co. in U.S. cities. ASD was founded in 1961 as Associated Surplus Dealers.
Think small -- go to local markets and craft fairs. You never know when you will stumble onto something you’ll want to resell. For instance, if you have an online store that sells relaxation items and you happen to go on vacation to Seattle, you may run into a local lavender farmer hawking freshly made lotions and soaps. Grab a card and start a relationship. Find unique things when you least expect it.
Don't be afraid to bargain once you establish yourself with a supplier. Try to get better deals; it will be win-win for both.
Drop-shipping can be convenient and cost-effective, but be sure to take into consideration shipping costs and any extra handling fees that can cut into your profits. You'll want to account for this in the prices you set for your own customers. Only offer select items you feel will be profitable.
- Bead store image by TekinT from Fotolia.com