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Import 101 - Chapter 4/7: How to Effectively Source Suppliers Abroad

So you have decided what you will import, you have found the best country to source your merchandise from, and you understand basic things that are usually involved in a typical importation process. You’re ready for the next big step: finding a reliable supplier.

Most potential suppliers come from one of three sources: online marketplaces, exhibitions, or personal contacts. Online marketplaces such as Alibaba, AliExpress, GlobalSources, or HKTDC are the most common platforms to find suppliers. Alibaba is the largest supplier directory on the Internet, and it recently introduced a new service called Trade Assurance that aims to protect small businesses from their biggest fears when sourcing merchandise overseas: product quality and on-time delivery.

Alibaba, despite its numerous suppliers, can be overwhelming to new users due to the sheer amount of information available. There are too many suppliers with little or no indication, such as a rating system, on whether or not those suppliers will actually come through when you need them. Alibaba does have many forums for different topics based on industries, regions, etc. – but browsing your way through all of the irrelevant information to find exactly what you’re looking for is a hassle (and many times the info you want is nowhere to be found).

While Alibaba is suitable for established businesses – the kind of businesses that are already familiar with the market, usually place larger orders, and highly customized goods – a superior option for new businesses who are trading for the first time, or those who work with smaller quantities – is AliExpress. Goods on AliExpress are more ready-made, in-stock, and can be shipped more quickly than those on Alibaba.

A second option for tracking down a great supplier comes via in person meetings at exhibitions and tradeshows. Tradeshows are not only fun, but with one trip you can meet and multiple suppliers face-to-face, as well as see and try the products yourself. Canton Fair[link], which occurs twice a year in Guangzhou, China, is probably the world’s most popular and largest import and export tradeshow. Even seasoned tradeshow vets need multiple days to get through all the vendors’ booths. This event attracts thousands of sellers and buyers from all over the globe. You’ll walk away with more than just a few supplier options: you’ll walk away with inspiration for your project. Bottom-line, do not skip Canton Fair! It is a must for anyone who thinks about sourcing goods from China. [photo of Canton Fair]

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Photo: The massive venue of Canton Fair – yet the area is not big enough for all exhibitors at once. Canton Fair is three-week long and consists of 3 phrases happening one after another, with one or two days in between for tear down and set up.

You can visit www.tsnn.com or www.eventseye.com to check calendars of more global events and tradeshows.

If you’re already somewhat connected to the business, or just have a good sense of what you need, your third option for finding suppliers is by using personal contact. Don’t be afraid to ask around. Ask folks in your network of friends and colleagues for contacts that provide what you need, or things that are related to what you need. For instance, someone your mom knows from her yoga class may be purchasing leather shoes from a supplier. That same supplier can supply you with leather bags if you plan to import some. You never know who might have information you can use.

Doing research on potential suppliers is vital: browse through the information on their websites and request testimonials from previous customers. Ask the important questions up front to determine what kind of products and services they offer, their payment terms and options, production lead time, minimum order quantity, their packaging materials, etc. Don’t forget to ask for samples, especially if you plan to import a large quantity. Do this type of research on multiple suppliers so you can compare their products and services, and also so you can get some ideas about whether you should (and how much you can) negotiate pricing.

While this communication process may seem involved, it’s an important step and provides preliminary information for you to start preparing a sales agreement. In the next post we will discuss the actual process of developing a sales agreement with your supplier.

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