To find suppliers of the product you want to import, you’ll need to consult some specialized online resources. These four are a good start: Alibaba, Global Sources, ThomasNet, and Kompass. If you contact the U.S. Embassy in the country you are interested in importing from, they might be able to help as well. When you travel internationally, provided you set aside time to do a little shopping, you can always stumble upon a product you like and find out who the manufacturer is (look on the package).
I have managed to do this several times in the course of my international career. It works.
To save time in your quest for a supplier, you might also try searching the Internet with specific keywords, for example, “Japan, gourmet food product manufacturers,” to see what is currently available online. Plan to attend a trade exhibition in your industry such as Foodex, Japan’s largest food show, to locate a supplier. Alternatively, to contain costs, look into local trade shows that feature an “international hall” to source a supplier. For example, the International Housewares Association has an exhibition in the United States and provides a number of benefits to help its members increase sales globally. Other industry associations offer similar assistance. Look into (trade shows around the world).
Ensure a Good Fit
Here are some things to watch for to ensure a good fit between you in your capacity as an importer and a potential supplier:
Good chemistry between you and your key contact (you can usually tell right away!), and preferably with all of their top management as well. This helps ensure a company-wide commitment to the import program.
Impressive product information.
Impressive packaging, quality, convenience, and price.
A company environment that is friendly, creative, and well-organized at both operational and administrative levels.
The company is positioned to achieve a world-class reputation in the industry.
These traits are positive indications that you will achieve success in your import sales efforts. Look for them on every level as you search for a source to supply your importable product.
Make Sure Supplier Can Keep Up with the Demand
After you have found companies that manufacture the product you wish to import, you must make sure they can keep up with customer demand. Here are some ways you can check:
When you’re narrowing your list to the most likely prospects, refer back to the four companies mentioned above for information on company size, sales volume, the number of employees, etc.
Survey retail stores to check product availability. If you spot a similar product to the one you are interested in importing in a major mass-merchandising outlet, there’s a good chance the supplier can keep up with demand. But be careful here. You want to ensure that your product is unique enough that it will not compete with any existing product currently on the market. Contact some out-of-state and out-of-country friends or family and see if they know about or have purchased the product from the supplier you are negotiating with. The wider the supplier’s distribution, the greater the likelihood that the supplier will be able to meet the demands of your customer.
Advertising, PR, website, blog, social media — billboards, print ads, radio, coupons in newspaper inserts, a social media presence, PR campaign, sophisticated website, active blog. All these forms of company exposure improve the chance that the supplier can keep up with consumer demand.
When you meet with a prospective supplier, ask them directly, “Will you be able to keep up with demand — let’s say, potentially a 1,000-case (12 units to a case) order every month?”
Make Sure You Can Keep Up with the Work
Once you’ve found a likely supplier, you must establish what will be required of both of you, and ensure that you will be able to do what it takes to carry out the proposal you’re about to make. When you set up a Skype call or send an email, you’ll need to be prepared to inspire confidence.
You must have a passion for the product that equals or exceeds the supplier’s own. You must trust your own ability to import the product before suppliers will trust you. It’s that simple. If you have doubts about your abilities, they will have doubts, too.
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