So you’ve decided to start an online business, and start reading up on everything there is to know about ecommerce. You look up all the best practices and strategies, and you decide that drop shipping is right down your alley. Not only will you avoid sinking lot of money into a physical inventory, you won’t even have to handle fulfillment, letting you focus on marketing and business development. Everything’s starting to look up!
Until, that is, you realize you still need a supplier to partner with to make your store a reality. All e-tailers that rely on drop shipping or third party fulfillment run into this problem at some point. In fact, one of the most common questions we get at HubLogix goes something like this:
How can I find a real supplier that drop ships my product reliably?
Drop shipping and Fulfillment and Manufacturers, Oh My!
Finding a good supplier can be a very time-consuming task, and rightly so. For most of our customers, having suppliers that they can count on is one of the cornerstones of their online business. If you drop ship or use third party fulfillment, you can’t partner with an inconsistent or unreliable vendor and expect to stay in business for very long, and our customers intuitively realize this.
Since HubLogix happens to be in the business of boosting your business, we thought that we’d go all-out and gather up all our experience and knowledge about this very important issue and compile it into an easy-to-follow, friendly guide. We hope it will help you find a supplier that works for you.
Get Your Ship Together
Before you can begin searching for your dream supplier, you’ll need to make sure you have a few things taken care of. Wholesalers often need proof that you’re an actual retailer and not just a consumer before they even consider partnering with you.
Also, be familiar with basic drop shipping terminology and common practices before you call. Take a look at the general advice section and helpful links at the bottom of this guide for a basic overview of these, and advice on how to avoid illegitimate suppliers.
1) Know Your Industry
Different industries can have different supply chains. Understanding where you fit into this picture can help you find suppliers that will cater to your needs.
For example, if you’re going to be running a small boutique store that sells a very specialized kind of item, you’re not going to run into much success if you look for large distributors – you’ll probably need to partner with a manufacturer or local supplier directly. If you’re going to be running a large electronics accessories store, it’ll make a lot more sense to partner with a bigger distributor with a wide selection of products to sell.
2) Try Manufacturers First
Try to figure out who manufactures the items you want to sell on your store and contact them directly to ask them if they can drop ship their items. You can email them, but I recommend just calling them over the phone. You’ll get more information quicker and hopefully now have a contact within the manufacturer itself, which is especially useful if you’re filling a new or smaller niche.
As you contact vendors, you’ll find they fall into one of three categories. Here’s what each one means for you:
They drop ship – That’s great news, because you just found a perfect vendor! Make sure to ask about what they require from their partners, and their minimum order requirements.
They don’t drop ship – Unfortunate, but not the end of the world. It just means a little more searching. Ask them about what distributors they supply their products to and take note of them.
They don’t offer their products for resale – Oh well, at least you know now. Time to try someone else.
Even e-tailers with large inventories and a variety of products should directly contact the manufacturers of the items they want to sell. There are a couple of reasons why this is always the smartest initial move – they’ll usually have the best prices if they do drop ship, and if they don’t, they’ll at least have leads on more distributors. These distributors will usually be reputable, and carry a selection of similar products from different manufacturers you can then add to your inventory.
3) Be Old-Fashioned
It’s almost common knowledge that most suppliers don’t prioritize SEO. To add to this, many of their sites look like they’ve time-traveled straight from the 90’s. This means that although a little targeted Google-fu might still net you results, being old-fashioned can be a more effective use of your time.
Trade magazines or newsletters for your particular industry can be an invaluable resource, as they’re usually filled with ads from suppliers specifically looking for people like you. Most of these publications have websites with past issues and even more resources, and you may be able to find print versions at your local library.
Drop shipping or industry forums and online groups can be another useful resource, if their members are willing to share the suppliers they use.
Finally, look into attending a trade show or conference relevant to your niche, where you can directly interact with reps from potential suppliers. You can use a site like TSNN.com to find relevant conferences near you.
4) Dive Into the Depths (of Gooooooooogle)
Finding actual, reliable suppliers on the internet can be a frustrating, time-consuming process. For every actual wholesaler you find, you might find two that no longer exist, three that are scams, and four that have terrible terms.
Fortunately, there are a few simple techniques you can use to increase your chances of success when looking for vendors online.
First of all, as we mentioned before, many decent suppliers have awful online presences. You’re going to have to delve deep into your search results to find them – think page 10 and onwards. Search for as many different identifiers as you can to make sure you’ve covered all your bases.
When you’re searching for products, here’s are a few terms you’ll want to try searching with: “wholesale”, “dropship”, “manufacturer”, “supplier”, “distributor”, “reseller”, “ecommerce”, and “fulfillment”. Also consider searching for specific terms like “wholesale only,” “retailer wanted,” or “become a reseller.”
Another way to tailor your searches is by location – add in a physical location to find vendors near your customers or use the Google site search feature to search for ones based in a specific country (for example, to find sites in China, add “site:.cn” to your search).
Don’t necessarily rule out a vendor because it has a dated webpage – remember that many suppliers don’t bother creating a top-of-the-line online experience. Instead, focus on their contact page and make sure the information is up to date and accurate. Make sure to actually get in touch with them if you are considering partnering with them, and look to see if there are any reviews or testimonials that mention them online.
This may seem like a bit much, as it can be easy to find a seemingly large vendor with a slick, well-maintained site on the first page of your results, but it’s often worth it to dig deeper to find suppliers with better prices and terms than those you find at first glance. You’ll also have less competition at your price point, as it’s likely many of your competitors will have quickly chosen the large site instead of taking the time to find alternatives.
5) Try What’s Left
By now, you should have compiled at least a modest list of potential suppliers for your store. If not, or if you want even more options, here are a few additional resources you can try to take advantage of:
There are a couple of curated lists online that you can pay to access. Some of these have outdated and obsolete entries, however, so be careful and make sure you research the list to make sure it’s useful and recent.
Finally, to find suppliers from all over the world (especially China), you can use a site like Alibaba to compile a list of drop shippers for particular products. This works for a lot of people, but there are potential downsides – the products can be of questionable quality and any issues with products or shipping will be your fault in your customers’ minds. Make sure you always start out small and don’t risk too much – do not make your first order for 1000 items and wire transfer your payment. Let them earn your trust, as some suppliers in China are notorious for taking money and never sending items. If they accept PayPal or another form of secure payment, always opt for that. Keep these factors in mind when dealing with international drop shippers, and always test them thoroughly.
Wrapping it Up and Shipping it Out
By now you should have a solid list of potential suppliers, or at least a good grip on how to begin looking for them. Drop shipping is an exciting and fast-growing industry, and even large and established retailers are implementing drop shipping into their ecommerce arsenals.
All that’s left is to get out there and get started!
> Avoid suppliers that charge an ongoing monthly fee to do business with them. It’s important to note that some suppliers WILL charge an initial setup fee that can be up to $300 or more, and may charge a per-order drop shipping fee, but these are legitimate charges to dissuade non-retailers and to cover packaging and shipping fees. It’s the recurring fees independent of orders you should be wary of.
> Consider where your supplier is located. It will simplify your shipping logistics greatly if they are located at a location near potential customers, or a central location with consistent shipping times.
> Ensure your suppliers are reliable by placing a few test orders with them. Take note of the average shipping time and quality of the items received.
> Favor suppliers that understand and use efficient technology. It may be worth it to pay a slightly higher price per item if it simplifies your logistics, especially as you scale up. Suppliers that can make use of emailed or FTP order fulfillment, and provide their inventory in a highly compatible format like CSV can make managing your store much, much easier, especially with an automation tool like HubLogix.
> Make certain that they have a responsive and competent support staff available to address any questions or concerns you may have.
> Shopify’s Ecommerce University has an excellent, thorough guide on setting up your own drop shipping business.
> Andrew Youderian’s blog is a goldmine of useful drop shipping and general ecommerce information.
> Alibaba.com is a useful site which lists a variety of drop shippers across the globe.
> Worldwide Brands is one of the more trusted and up-to-date drop shipping/supplier directories, although it is somewhat expensive to access.
> This article on our support database has a brief overview of the process, as well as a few other useful links.
> Kurt Heinrich, HubLogix’s founder, posted a top-rated answer on Quora explaining how he got into drop shipping back in high school and some strategies he used to find suppliers and make $17,500 during one holiday season.
> Also be sure to check out our upcoming vendors page, which we will be updating with our own list of partnered and trusted suppliers!
We love feedback, so make sure to comment below! What strategies do you use to find suppliers?
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