Back in the day, I had a client who spent about $25,000 to open an online store only to close it less than a month later.
She had access to a large cache of books that she was going to sell (yes, this was long before the complete global dominance of Amazon in books, err, everything) and so she went all-in. Unfortunately, she failed to calculate the cost of shipping heavy books (again, e-commerce was in its infancy). Once she did, making a profit became an impossibility.
All of which is to say, when you sell products, either in your physical store or your e-store, you need to be able to source not only the right products for your brand and business, but also items that allow enough room for markup and profit-taking.
Consider: A manufacturer creates the product and sells it to a wholesaler. The wholesaler may distribute the products directly or may sell to distributors. As such, if you purchase your products far down the line, making a profit may be difficult because there have been several layers of profit-taking already.
Sourcing the right products
So, how do you find the right products? Below are your options, but first, a caveat:
There are a lot of scammers in the product sourcing world. There are literally thousands of websites from cheats who claim to be real wholesalers and distributors but are not. You must do your research, find potential suppliers, and then do more research. Make sure they are legitimate, and legitimately rated well. Get references.
OK, with that in mind, your sourcing options are:
Contact the manufacturer: If you know of products that you like and want to sell, the easiest and smartest way is just to start at the top. Look at the packaging for the product, find the manufacturer, and give them a call. Ask for the sales department.
As a small business with small sales, it may not make sense for them to sell to you and in that case, find out who their local distributor is in your area and call them.
Trade groups: Trade groups, publications and websites, and especially trade shows are another excellent way to find people manufacturing and distributing products. That you can meet them face to face at a show and make a good impression is all the better.
Google: The problem with simply doing a Google search is that you will be overwhelmed with options. But if you have the time and ability to cull through them, then this of course is a fine way to go.
LinkedIn: LinkedIn can be an excellent source for sourcing products. Put in the type of product or manufacturer you are looking for and voila! You will get a list of people in your extended network who offer that.
Thomas Register: The Thomas Network (website, etc.) is a respected, long-established resource for connecting buyers and suppliers.
Amazon: You need to be especially cautious when going this route. There are plenty of unscrupulous sellers on Amazon, so be careful. That said, Amazon also offers everything. One tool that might be especially helpful here is SourceMogul, “the search engine that sources profitable products for you to sell on Amazon.”
Etsy Wholesale: Etsy is a global marketplace for creative goods and so Etsy Wholesale might be a good option for you.
Alibaba: Alibaba is a Chinese platform that connects Chinese manufacturers and wholesalers with buyers from around the world.
If you want to sell only goods manufactured in the U.S., then you have a few options:
Whatever way you go, remember that the key to making a profit is not in the selling, it is in the buying. Buy the right product for the right price and you are on your way.
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success.© Steven D. Strauss
Web: or Twitter: @SteveStrauss
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