How to Find a Wholesale Distributor

10 Tips for Finding a Wholesale Distributor

how to find a wholesale distributor
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Are you interested in finding a wholesale distributor or drop shipper for your bricks and mortar retail business or online e-commerce store?

See Also: The Top 5 Ways to Make Money Online

It's easier to find a wholesale supplier if you know exactly what products you need. If you're just starting out in ecommerce and aren't sure what you want to sell yet, check out this list of the most profitable online niches to get an idea of potential markets you can enter.

If you already know what you want to sell, here are 10 tips for finding a wholesale source.

1. Understand Your Industry's Distribution Channels

There are a lot of ways a product can go from manufacturer to retailer. Not all wholesalers serve the same market. Understanding your industry's distribution channels, and knowing where you fit in the supply chain, can help you find the right wholesale supplier for your retail business.

Here's a quick primer on some different types of wholesalers:

  • Manufacturer - For some products, you can buy directly from the manufacturer. This is basically what a "boutique" store does -- buys from small (sometimes one person) manufacturers.
  • Importer / Exclusive Distributor - In some industries, a company might have the sole rights to import and distribute a product in a certain country. Some may sell directly to retailers, but more often, they setup or sell to smaller local wholesalers.
  • Wholesaler / Regional Distributor - There are usually regional wholesalers who take delivery of boxcar sized lots, break them down, and sell truckloads boxes of products to local wholesalers.
  • Jobbers, "wagon peddlers" - These are the guys who make daily deliveries to local grocers and retail brick-and-mortar stores.

    Each product industry has its own unique distribution channels. Some retailers will move enough volume to bypass jobbers, or maybe in a smaller industry, importers sell directly to retailers. (That's why it's easier to find a wholesaler when you already know the product you're looking for.)

    When you first start you, you'll be buying from the smaller wholesalers at higher prices. As your volume increases, you'll be able to get better pricing and/or move up the supply ladder to a bigger wholesaler.

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    2. Try the Manufacturer First

    You might as well start at the source. If you're selling branded items, go directly to the manufacturer of the product. They might sell to you, depending on their minimum order requirements.

    If you're too small for them or they only sell through established distribution channels, ask them for a list of distributors you can contact.

    By starting at the source (the manufacturer), you can either get the lowest prices or at least get a list of the most reputable distributors to kickoff your search.

    The less people you have to go through the lower your cost will be allowing you to be more competitive in the marketplace.

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    3. Have a Productive First Contact with a Wholesale Supplier

    Take the list of wholesale distributors you got from the manufacturer, and start contacting each one. What you're looking for are minimum order requirements and their wholesale unit prices. To get the best responses, be honest about what you're looking for (don't try to sound "bigger" than you are), keep your emails short and to the point, and be friendly.

    Here how I would phrase a first contact email to potential wholesalers:

    Hello, I'm starting a small <insert product line> store. What are your minimum order requirements and wholesale prices? Thanks for your time! -Greg

    Keys to that action packed 2-line email:

    • "small" - This tells them the volume I expect to purchase from them. By pre-qualifying myself, I don't waste their and my time.
    • "minimum order requirements and wholesale prices" - This gets to the heart of the matter. It's really all you care about in a retailer-supplier relationship. Make it clear what you're asking for from them.
    • "Thanks" and "Greg" - Be casual and friendly. Those are regular folks on the other side too. Be friendly, and they'll be friendly and helpful.

    You may also consider picking up the phone to make initial outreach calls or to follow up with the people you've sent your introductory emails to as well.

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    4. Try Searching for Wholesalers on Google

    Conduct Google searches for the words "wholesale" or "distributor" plus some keywords from your products or niche. Try product names, model numbers, and brand names. For example:

    • <product, model name, brand> wholesale
    • <product, model name, brand> distributor
    • <product, model name, brand> drop shipper

    Go through each result and look for the "wholesale account" link or an email address or phone number where you can get more information. In the rare case that the information is difficult to find or not readily available, you could do a WHOIS search to find the website's contact information.

    At this point, and depending on your industry, you may have seen several distributors with similar names. It's helpful to keep a spreadsheet of potential wholesaler suppliers, their prices and minimum requirements, your contact history with them (do you have a wholesale account already or have you not contacted them yet?), etc. After a while, they all start to sound alike.

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    5. Looks for Wholesale Lots on eBay

    If all else fails, some retailers or small wholesalers will sell lots of your product on eBay.

    Since eBay mainly targets retail consumers, the wholesale options you'll find here are usually only suitable for very low volume retailers. But if you're just starting out, eBay might be the easy start you need to dip your toes into ecommerce and start shipping product.

    See Also: 8 Tips to Mastering eBay's Search for Sellers

    6. Check Major B2B Marketplaces

    Start at, it's the 800lb. gorilla (though mostly Chinese) B2B marketplace of manufacturers, importers, and wholesale distributors. It's a great source for finding Chinese manufacturing or distribution of commodity products.

    Other B2B marketplaces include Global Sources (USA), Buyer Zone (USA), EC21 (Korea), EC Plaza (Korea), and Busy Trade (Hong Kong).

    7. Join Industry Groups, Forums, and Other Professional Networks

    Other retailers are not eager to share supplier information with competitors, so it'll take some networking (and time and learning experiences) to find the best possible wholesale suppliers for your small business. Start building relationships with industry insiders, and eventually you'll be one of those insiders. Participate in online forums, build your LinkedIn profile and start building connections, subscribe to industry newsletters, and generally build your professional network.

    See Also: How to Increase Your Sales with Email Marketing and List Building

    8. Subscribe to All of Your Industry's Trade Publications

    Get every magazine or newsletter that targets retailers in your industry. Every advertiser in the magazine will be a product manufacturer or distributor looking to reach you. You should have a few dozen options from the ads in the back of the magazine. These publications will usually have a Web site too.

    9. Attend a Trade Show

    Attending trade shows, meeting people, and making connections is hands down one of the most powerful ways to build and grow your business.

    These events are for retailers just like you. When you can talk face-to-face with manufacturers and wholesale distributors, it avoids all of the noise of inaccurate information that can plague the Web. The largest directory of trade shows is at You can search for a trade show by industry, date, city / state / country (it's a global directory), and/or event name. Here are some tips for maximizing your trade show experience.

    Note: You can keep up to date with the latest internet marketing seminars and events here.

    10. Don't be Afraid to Make a Mistake

    Your first wholesale supplier may not be your lifelong vendor. Creating your perfect supply chain is an evolution involving a lot of trial and error. But don't let less-than-ideal conditions stop you from doing business. Remember, all you need from your first supplier is product that you can ship at a profit. It may not be the best wholesale price for you, but don't sweat that in the beginning. Your first goal is to ship product. Then you can improve your bottom line by trying other wholesale suppliers.

    Selling physical products is just one of the many ways to make money online. See more ways to make money online and tips to starting an online business here.

    Note: Edited/Updated by Online Business/Hosting Expert Brian T. Edmondson

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