Over the last 5 years I’ve been heavily involved with eCommerce sites, both my own and as a consultant working with others. Being around this community for so long I’ve seen an amazing growth in the number of people wanting to start an online store for various good reasons but I find they often come up with the same issue very early on in their journey.
How to find brands to supply their new store?
It’s true that for somebody looking into starting an online business the quest of finding reliable, trustworthy suppliers in your chosen niche can be daunting. I recall spending weeks when setting up my first store searching Google for “niche keyword” + wholesale/supplier/trade….it doesn’t work.
Correction. It does work, but not very well.
There are plenty of easy ways to find potential brands willing to supply your business in just an hour (or less) which I myself have used time and again in all manner of industries. In my experience the best way approach this is to compile a list of as many potential suppliers as possible and contact them individually (preferably by phone) to discuss their willingness and suitability to take matters further.
For this post I have randomly chosen the general Outdoor Recreation niche as an example, it’s an area I know very little about so should serve as a good test for my tips!
Ah yes, the age old idea of stealing somebody else’s hard work for your own gain, I’m all for it!
Analyzing what your established potential competitors are already doing is one of the easiest ways to pick up potential new suppliers. Often these guys will have made the process of scraping their entire contact list super easy by providing
you their customers with an extremely helpful “Shop by brand” option.
Simply asking Google to return Niche Keyword + “By Brand” should give you a starter for 10.
It’s worth noting at this point that, dependent on the industry the brands may not be willing to supply you directly, however they will almost certainly be willing to put you in touch with their distributor or local rep to discuss a deal.
To take this idea a step further, if you can find competitors who display a “top sellers” section on their website you can also see which suppliers you should be making a priority to get on board!
Google image search
Sometimes whilst using the above example of raiding your competitors (or potential competitors) for their suppliers you can come across really interesting products but the manufacturer name isn’t obvious, or whilst you know the name finding their website proves to be a challenge.
A really great tip I’ve picked up which works well at a specific product level is to use Google image search to track down the web address detailed on the product packaging. Similar to the below option of visiting competitors physical stores and snapping the details listed on a products label you can use the trend of high quality, multiple angle product photography to your advantage.
As you can see in the above example having a high quality image of the product packaging often gives away the web address you’re looking for.
Bonus tip: Use Google’s size option under “Search Tools” to look for larger images which will be good enough quality to read small text.
Amazon “Featured Brands”
If you’re having a hard time using the above tip to find established stores which have lovingly curated a list of suitable suppliers for your to swipe you could always take a look at Amazon. No matter what niche you decide to go into online there’s a good chance that Amazon is going to be a competitor of yours to some degree. Lucky for us that similar to the “By Brand” example Amazon have a “Featured brands” section against many of their departments pages, check them out (towards the bottom of each page).
Specific trade shows, exhibitions and conferences for your niche are invaluable for any startup looking to make connections in their industry and give you the opportunity to meet any potential suppliers face to face. You are able to see goods first hand and get a feel for any new trends which seem to be breaking through, product launches very often take place as these events.
But what if you just missed the show and the next one isn’t for another 11 months? or the greatest niche expo is in another country and you don’t have the funds to attend?
Aha! be heartened, this is where the “exhibitor list” comes in rather handy!
Any self respecting trade show will have an exhibitor resource available, usually free of charge and very often with full contact details. These are ready made lists of suppliers who want to do business and can’t be beaten in terms of viabilty.
I did a quick search around the internet for keywords related to my chosen industry (outdoor recreation), adding phrases like “expo”, “trade show” and “exhibitor” and these are a selection of the results
(not very inventive names I’ll grant you)
It seems every time I fire up “Wonk” I find another use for it. Most recently I had a bash at using the free version of the popular social media tool to seek out suppliers in the example niche I’d chosen for this post and it worked!
Admittedly this is really just a variation of searching Google but it seems to turn up many fewer spam results than using the big G and is another way to come at this problem, the more leads you have to follow up the better after all.
One of the most useful things about free Wonk is the ability search the Twitter bio for key phrases and location of the account owner, you can also sort by numbers of followers to indicate which might be the more popular brands.
Try this for your niche:
Bricks and Mortar Competitors (Partner)
If you are really having a hard time finding suppliers or simply don’t want the hassle of building these relationships and managing the orders, stock etc then you could try to partner with a B&M store.
This isn’t an easy one to pull off in my opinion but if you know of a store (or even go searching for one) that has all the suppliers in place for B&M but does not have an online shop there could be an opportunity to partner. Essentially you could work on the basis of using the store as your sole supplier (after negotiating a discount on their regular prices) and create a site based on their current inventory.
I’m really not a fan of this one but I have to include it as I know of people who have done this and been successful. But not many.
Bricks and Mortar Competitors (Underhand)
I guess this tactic is a little underhand (maybe?) but along the same lines of researching the suppliers your online competition are using it’s also a great idea to do the same thing with offline stores in your niche. Whilst these guys may not be direct competition for you on the search engines they are another great source of potential suppliers information.
This is going to take you a lot more time than simply browsing the web but there are some major benefits in being able to see and handle the products you could potentially stock. If decide to go down the drop shipping route with some suppliers this may be a rare chance to see the products with your own eyes. Whilst you are looking at, and handling the product make sure you cast your eye over the tags, more often than not it will detail the suppliers web address (Win!) If like me your memory for these things is pretty poor having a camera phone handy to discreetly snap the labels is a good idea.
Don’t forget that you can also buy a few of the more promising products to examine further, you can always return them later.
Publications around your chosen niche are great research material for identifying suppliers and there are generally one or more for any niche, if there’s a market for it then somebody is writing about it. Finding publications is pretty easy via a Google search using your keywords plus “trade magazine”, “newsletter” and “publication” very often you can subscribe directly on the website or even order back copies should you wish to get started right away.
Remember these don’t have to be specifically trade magazines, (if you get them you’re winning!) even general consumer publications will often feature copious amounts of advertising by companies who will sell wholesale.
A quick (5 minute) look around in just the “climbing” niche uncovers lots of potential leads just in the UK:
Product Review Sites
If you have decided to enter a niche with a relatively large market product review sites are often a huge source of inspiration and information. You can discover new up and coming products which may have been overlooked at trade shows or in industry magazines.
Review sites are often used by small and dynamic start ups because the cost is relatively low. Forging a relationship with company’s new to the market are often very beneficial to store owners as they can be more flexible with price and terms.
Product review Vloggers
As well as the standard product review sites and blogs which are a useful source of inspiration Vlogging (video blogging) is getting more popular every year and is another avenue to explore. You can either use Google’s video search option or go directly to YouTube (By far the most popular platform) to search for products in your niche being reviewed using the standard “niche + review” or even “niche product + comparison” search.
Quickly scrolling through the returned videos you should be able to spot brand names being mentioned directly on the results page, if you have more time to delve into the videos and the details you’ll find even more. As with the Followerwonk tip, you can also use number of views, ratings and upload dates to get a feeling for what products are popular in your niche.
Cheats and Shortcuts:
If all of the above sounds too much like hard work here are a couple of alternatives.
Buy an Established Site
This can be a difficult one to pull off but if the right opportunity comes around you can purchase an established business with stock, supplier contacts, site, the whole shooting match. Literally hundreds of established eCommerce stores close every year because they do not for fill their true potential but they already have all the necessarily infrastructure setup. There are a number of places to monitor if you decide to buy an eCommerce site:
So you’ve been through all the above tips and come to the conclusion that all this finding suppliers business is still too much effort?
Ok, well no problem, he’s one where you don’t really need to look for them, affiliates networks. Joining an affiliate network means you do not have to trawl around looking for 5, 10 or maybe more individual companies you simply join a network and select the products you want to promote in your store. There are clearly downsides (and upsides) to this style of selling over the traditional methods which I’m not going to go into here, there’s plenty of debate online if you are interested.
There are a large number of affiliate networks to choose from but here are some of the most popular:
In compiling this post I’ve just a few minutes on each of the tips searching Google and finding results, I could have easily created a huge list of potential suppliers in just an hour. The work then is to pick up the phone (it works better than email) , get in touch with them and do a deal! Good luck guys!
Post by Gaz Copeland
Image credit jlggb