10 Tips for Finding a Wholesale Distributor

Online searches and good communication are key

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?

It's easier to find a wholesale supplier if you know exactly which products you need. If you're just starting out in e-commerce 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 to enter.

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

1. Understand Your Industry's Distribution Channels

There are many 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 or online 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 truckload boxes of products to local wholesalers.
  • Jobbers, "wagon peddlers" - These individuals 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. 

    When you first start, 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.

    You can start the research process by simply doing some Google searches for products and niche names related to the type of distributor you want, such as "golf ball manufacturer" or "health supplements wholesaler."

    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 kick off your search.

    The fewer people you have to go through, the lower your cost will be, allowing you to be more competitive in the marketplace. Whether or not you are ready to make a purchase or do business with them, you can usually get them to send you a sample of the products in question.

    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's how to 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! 

    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.

    Always keep in mind that the "fortune is in the followup." If you don't hear back initially, be diligent in your followup, but also keep in mind that if they're not responsive to a prospective new customer, how will they treat you as an established customer?

    4. Try Searching for Wholesalers on Google

    As mentioned above, you can start your preliminary research with some basic Google search terms. As you get deeper into your research, you'll probably get more specific about the products you're seeking.

    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, etc. After a while, they all start to sound alike.

    5. Look 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 e-commerce and start shipping product.

    eBay can also be a place to identify wholesalers that you can contact to negotiate better deals and rates than they've listed online.

    6. Check Major B2B Marketplaces

    Start at Alibaba.com; it's the 800-pound gorilla 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).

    You may also want to set up a Google Alert for the search terms mentioned above, so that you can be alerted to new companies or existing companies you may not have found through your preliminary research.

    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 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.

    The more involved you are in your industry and better connected you are, the easier it will be for you to learn about new resources, opportunities and channels.

    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 website too. Also, subscribe to all of the online newsletters, blogs, and other sources of information available to you. 

    9. Attend a Trade Show

    Attending trade shows, meeting people and making connections is 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 tsnn.com. You can search for a trade show by industry, date, city, state or country and/or event name. You'll also get to meet other peers in your industry and develop personal and business relationships that can go a long way.

    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.

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