Picking Producers to Contact
The idea of starting a sidebusiness originated from a podcast episode they talked about Amazon FBA. FBA stands for “Fulfillment By Amazon” and describes a business model, where you order stuff at a supplier, they ship it to an Amazon Storage and Amazon ships the stuff and bills you for this service. That way you won’t even have to touch the stuff you’re selling.
At first I liked the idea, but I don’t like the fulfillment fee for the start, so I’m trying my own website first. Maybe I’m going to use the shipping service later, maybe another service provider.
What remained was the knowledge of two websites to contact possible suppliers, that are commonly used for FBA:
alibaba.com is a platform for business-to-business trades. Most producers on this website are located in China, the minimal order quantities are high, but low prices are available. If you contact producers, alibaba notices this and other producers start contacting you and offer their products. The large order quantities enable custom design, because the stuff might be produces directly for you.
aliexpress.com is a platform for business-to-customers trades, too. The minimal order quantities are lower, therefore the prices are not as competitive. The articles I have seen there are off the shelf products, which are not customized. If you want to test a product or market, ordering stuff at aliexpress allows you to start with a small initial investment. And if it’s ok for you to wait three weeks until online shopped stuff arrives, it’s also an option for regular online shopping (I bought my bluetooth speakers there 😉 )
Local listing websites exist, too. If you look for German companies, you might want to use wlw.de, for Latvian producers be referred to exim.lv.
When you want to start in fair traded textiles and apparel, there is the website global-standard.org, where they list all GOTS-certified companies. Fair trade is about transparency, too. So I guess, there are similar websites for other fair trade products.
Contacting them: Call first!
I placed the first call for offers at alibaba using the website’s own interface. Some suppliers responded with their offers, but it turned out either the minimal order quantities where to high or the price was to high. Back then I wasn’t willing to invest more than 1000 € in the first order, especially when trading with another legal system.
The call for offers went to German sock factories, but it turned out, those where way to expensive to focus on the medium price segment. Here I noticed, that writing e-mails without knowing the people leads to a low reply rate (about 50 %). It’s a good idea to call first and “ask for their e-mail address”. Then they know your request is a serious one.
This approach worked out well, when I contacted some sock factories in lower-wage-countries of the European Union. Calling before writing an e-mail led to a reply rate of 100%.
Calling foreign suppliers which do not speak German forced me to leave my comfort zone and I was very nervous during the first two calls. It will be difficult for you, too. But it’s worth it – leaving your comfort zone is part of progressing 🙂