Contacting Suppliers

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So far, you have done the following:

■    Set up your seller central account.

■    Pinpointed some products to look at.

• Found some suppliers.

Now it’s time to contact those suppliers. You are going to contact a lot of suppliers, but you only need one.

SUPPLIER CONTACTING TIPS

I can’t stress this enough: you are building a relationship. Getting off on the right foot with a supplier and building a strong relationship over time will pay huge dividends down the road.

For domestic sourcing, contact the supplier by phone and start to build a relationship right away so you can get the information you want as fast as possible. There’s usually no language barrier, and you don’t have to wait for emails to go back and forth.

For international sourcing, you’re probably going to want to use email or Skype. There are some other apps out there (e.g., Whatsapp, Fiverr). Skype seems to be the most popular right now. Often your first contact will be by email, and the rest will be on Skype. Which is great, because you can get answers instantly, rather than waiting for hours or days to receive an email.

Don’t feel awkward if a supplier doesn’t want to talk to you on the phone. That’s perfectly normal. To overcome the language barrier, most suppliers prefer to chat via Skype. That way they can type, read, and have time to process before they respond rather than feel “on the spot” during a telephone call.

Contact many different suppliers.

Get a bunch of suppliers and do an in-depth comparison. Feel out each relationship. One supplier might seem indifferent, and you might make a great connection with another right away.

Do yourself a favor. Don’t just contact 1-3 suppliers. Contact at least 6, maybe as many as 20. Many suppliers will be slow to respond, IF they respond. So give yourself the opportunity to explore many options.

Be professional.

Have confidence in who you are and the information you’re learning. These are real people on the other end, just like you. They’re business people. And at the end of the day, they need your business. That is their job, so don’t be intimidated. And don’t just fire off an email full of poor grammar or punctuation. Suppliers are more likely to respond to professional emails than sloppy ones. Just put yourself in their shoes.

It is not necessary to use an @yourbusiness.com email address, but it does present a more professional face. Also, you may want to use a business name when you set up your Skype account. For example, if you have a cell phone accessory brand, you call set your Skype username as “Shane’s cell phone accessories” or “Shane’s phones.”

INFO YOU WANT FROM A SUPPLIER

Do they have the product you want? Just because they have it listed on Alibaba.com, doesn’t mean they still have it in stock. They may have discontinued that item, so double check.

Are they able to private label the product? Some suppliers make their own brand and do not private label for third-parties. So double check that they can private label the product you’re looking for.

How does their private labeling process work? Some suppliers just ask you to send them the information, artwork, and logo. You make the deal and away you go. Others use a specific form to gather your information. So find out what you need to do to initiate the private labeling process.

What are the price tiers on the product? How do those change when you order different quantities? For example, where are the price breaks if you order 1000 units, 5000 units, 10,000? This information probably won’t matter for your first order. But they let a supplier know that you are serious and not just thinking small. When you get price tiers from several suppliers, you can see right away who will give you the earliest price breaks. That might influence your decision about which supplier to go with first.

What is the minimum order quantity (MOQ)? This is the smallest amount of inventory you must order to work with that supplier. Don’t start out by asking what the minimum order quantity is, because they might think that you’re just a small player fooling around, but it’s a good number to know — and they’re almost always going to give you that information anyway. And don’t worry if they say the MOQ is 500, 1000, 5000, or more. The MOQ is almost always negotiable.

How long until the product is ready to ship? Whether you send them a custom label or they do custom labeling for you, ask how long until that product is shipped. Then ask them if there’s any way to speed that process up, because sometimes they can do that for you. For some suppliers, it may only take a few days. They might even have some in stock and ready to go. Other suppliers might need a couple of weeks. They might have lots of other orders in the queue. If it’s going to take longer than a few weeks to produce your product, you might want to start looking at another product, at least for your first one.

What packaging or branding options do they provide? Packaging can get very elaborate. The supplier will most likely have a few basic options (e.g., sticker on a package, printing on boxes). See what each one has so you can choose the easiest and cheapest option. You can upgrade as you go. Just start with the cheapest, easiest option and get your products to market quickly.

GETTING SET UP WITH YOUR SUPPLIER

Ask if they have any kind of a set up process. Most don’t. Some require a few forms. If they ask for a reseller license, just say you don’t have one or leave that part of the form blank.

You shouldn’t need one, so don’t worry about it.

Find out what payment methods they accept. Few suppliers accept PayPal. For domestic suppliers, you can most likely use a credit card. For international suppliers, you may need to send wire transfers directly from your bank or from a provider like Western Union.

Be prepared to prepay your first order. No supplier will start you off with a net 30 payment arrangement. If you establish a good relationship from the beginning, they’ll soon start offering you that sort of thing or you’ll quickly be able to negotiate for it.

Get the product-packaging design specifications. Some private-label suppliers will do the design for you. You just have to tell them what you want on your label. That is a fantastic option when you’re just getting started, because it’s really cost-effective. You may not get the best design in the world, but it doesn’t matter much for your first product order, because you’re going to change it as you evolve your packaging. If they don’t have that option, you’ll have to get a designer and send them the specifications. These typically include the file type, image size, and any templates they need. Some suppliers have additional requirements, so be sure to check. And ask for an example of any previous design files they have for that product.

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