Even before deciding on a type of product to sell on your website, it's not a bad idea to understand how the wholesale supplier system works.
But here's what:
It's not a well-structured system at all. It's a large collection of random suppliers scattered all across the world. Some of them are great, while others not so much.
Not too long ago there were hardly any sites organizing lists of suppliers, making it difficult for retailers to locate the best ones.
Both in AliExpress and Alibaba, you can search to see what types of products are popular before making a decision on what to sell. In addition, it allows you to filter products, see what they look like, find pictures, and look for detailed supplier information.
Once you decide on a niche, it's time to see exactly what types of suppliers are available. Experienced ecommerce professionals will tell you the horror stories they've encountered with wholesale suppliers, so this is an extremely important topic to touch on.
Overall, you're trying to partner with reputable suppliers that deliver on time, provide reliable contact, and give you some perks for working with them.
Some ecommerce stores can opt for big suppliers in places like China, but sometimes a unique brand (like one that sells vintage clothing or furniture) would have to opt for a niche local supplier.
Regardless, your goal is to find the best of the best, and that's what we're going to talk about today.
Finding and Working With the Best Wholesale Suppliers
Your first step is to write down how you would like to fulfill your orders. Some companies try dropshipping, which means that the supplier takes care of everything including storage, packaging, and shipping to the customer.
Another option would be self-fulfillment or partial self-fulfillment, where your company stores the products in a warehouse and ships them out to the customers. This is far more expensive, but you maintain more control over the shipping process.
Finally, we have one of the most popular fulfillment methods available today, and that involves going with a third-party fulfillment company. The most relevant example of this would be Amazon fulfillment, where you can send all of the products to a company like Amazon and have them store and ship.
The reason it's so essential to decide on your fulfillment process first is that you need to understand if the suppliers are able to provide that type of fulfillment. For instance, many suppliers are more than happy to sell you products at wholesale prices and send them straight to your company. But it can be a little trickier locating suppliers that also have dropshipping offerings.
Therefore, we recommend keeping this in your mind at all times.
The Best Platforms to Find Suppliers for Your Online Store
Although we also recommend going to tradeshows and doing your own research on Google, these are the best spots online to find and partner with reputable suppliers.
Both AliExpress and Alibaba are owned by the same company, but AliExpress is more useful for small online retailers since you get wholesale prices, and most of the time you can buy any quantity you want.
If you are looking for Dropshipping wholesale suppliers, we suggest you start checking out
Visit our article Best Dropshipping Companies for an extended list and more info!
Notably, AliExpress and Alibaba are owned by the same company. Alibaba is the B2B company that allows businesses to make wholesale purchases from suppliers and manufacturers around Asia. The sheer quantity of products available via Alibaba makes it an excellent way to track down products if you’re running your own store.
AliExpress is the B2C platform designed for consumers who want to look for a range of products at an affordable price. You may be able to access small quantities of the products you want through AliExpress, before you take the wholesale route with your purchases.
Both Alibaba and AliExpress stand out among the most popular supplier platforms in the world, with a huge online directory, and access to suppliers all over the world. You also get the bonus of a system that allows you to gauge the trustworthiness of suppliers through their rating, reviews, and transaction level. Features include:
- Trade assurance suppliers who meet strict quality standards
- Gold and assessed suppliers who have been fully authenticated
- Secure payment service where your money remains in escrow until confirmed
- Access to suppliers around the globe
- Quick and easy to find and assess supplier options
- Simple platform design
- Plenty of payment options to choose from
Though Alibaba and AliExpress are extremely popular, there are some downsides you should be aware of. For instance, accessing products through each of these services means that you’re going to be buying products from Asia, which means that the delivery times aren’t always great. It’s also worth noting that your suppliers might not always speak English, which creates a language barrier if you have any problems with a transaction.
There are a lot of risks involved with Alibaba and AliExpress if you don’t know how to use the platform carefully. Additionally, it’s worth remembering that AliExpress is not intended for wholesale, so may sure that you know which service you need before you begin shopping.
A wholesale supplier directory for your ecommerce website that’s been available for more than 15 years, Salehoo is a common choice worldwide. Although this is one of the smaller companies among the supplier directories we’ve chosen, it does still have access to a huge selection of over 1.6 million products.
Unlike some of the other wholesale clothing and product providers on the market, Salehoo will also require businesses to pay a small fee if you want to access the database of suppliers. There’s an annual fee or a lifetime fee depending on which you prefer. If you’re going to stick with Salehoo long-term, then it makes sense to buy the lifetime pass. You can even get a refund if you’re not happy with the quality products or shipping costs.
One thing that makes Salehoo particularly impressive is how well-vetted the suppliers are. You don’t just get fast shipping and low order quantity requirements, you’ll also get genuine branded products from companies like Sony, Disney, and more. To help you improve your profit margins, there are plenty of product categories to choose from, and extensive support, often more than you’d get from Amazon FBA or similar solutions. Features include:
- Genuine high-quality brands famous in the USA
- Massive range of wholesale products
- Lots of support resources for beginners
- Low order quantity and fast shipping
- Training and educational tools
- Great overall platform experience
Salehoo will help you with any questions you might have, from how to master SEO, to how you can advertise through LinkedIn. There are tons of educational resource to help you link your store to things like email automation and dropshipping through stores like Shopify. You can also speak to real people in the USA to answer your questions.
Salehoo is bound to be a good choice for any business who doesn’t have the time to thoroughly vet suppliers alone, but still needs a high quality of products to build their brand.
Among the better-known B2B wholesale directories on the market today, Wholesale Central is a solution intended to support both wholesalers and retailers. As a retailer, you can search through endless suppliers by categories, choosing from market leading products to stock your store. The site even gives you a better way to find some of the top selling products, by showcasing which of your items in certain categories is trending.
You can access extra bonus deals from different suppliers, like free shipping on your first order, and even track down deals on the “deals and steals” section of the website. To ensure that you get the best possible support from a reliable manufacturer, Wholesale Central will also list its top suppliers, so you can find which companies are driving the best reviews and results.
There’s no charge to worry about when you’re shopping from wholesales through Wholesale Central, although you might find that the environment is a little complicated initially. The website and inventory lookup experience is quite outdated compared to other leaders.
- Organize suppliers by category to find what you need
- Product locating options
- Top supplier lists and rating
- New deals all the time
- Support for both suppliers and retailers
- Excellent selection of products
Most experts wouldn’t recommend using Wholesale Central if you’re new in the industry. That’s because although this company is quite diverse, it does require you to put a lot of extra work into connecting with the suppliers you want to reach. You’ll also find that there are no easy-to-use environments for shopping for products for your store.
If you’re new to the world of wholesale, there are definitely platforms out there that support a higher level of handholding. If you’re experienced, however, then you should find that navigating this environment is simple enough.
When it comes to sourcing products, dropshippers and online retailers have a lot of choice these days. DHgate is another high-quality solution for wholesale shopping. Among the biggest marketplaces the world has to offer, DHgate is home to thousands of suppliers, offering a marketplace that sells millions of products in a host of categories.
One of the best things about this Chinese directory, is a lot of the sellers have low minimum order requirements for your dropship or retail online business. This ensures that you can buy a smaller amount to check the quality as a reseller before you use your entire budget.
There are also ratings available from importers to ensure that you’re getting a high quality of item for the pricing available. Small business buyers can choose from premium wholesale distributors with excellent reviews, or top merchants, which often offer higher sales volumes. Features include:
- Lower order options than things like Alibaba.com
- Tools to suit any business model
- Premium and top merchants
- Lots of brand name items
- Affordable dropshipping services
- Buyer protection for your ecommerce business
Unfortunately, there are a decent amount of counterfeit items on this platform, which you will need to evolve if you want to stand out among ecommerce platforms for the right reasons. Many of the branded goods on this platform won’t grow your audience, but they could end up getting you into legal trouble if you’re not careful. Make sure you do your due diligence before ordering new products.
And now, I'll outline a step by step process that you can use to find and choose the best suppliers:
Contact the Suppliers First and Cut Out the Middle Men
Whether you contact a supplier through email or phone, the main goal is to get in touch with someone who's able to make decisions. The problem is that some industries have different types of distribution and supply systems. Therefore, you might find some middlemen in the process if you don't talk to the supplier first. In addition, the supplier should be honest with you in terms of which other companies are involved in the process.
If you're working directly with the supplier, this is the easiest way to cut down costs and make a bigger profit.
Another thing to consider is that suppliers aren't competitors with all suppliers. For instance, if you call a mobile phone case supplier and they say that your business is too small for them right now, you can always ask them for some recommendations.
They might even give you a full list of other reputable suppliers that service smaller brands. In return, you can give them some business after you've grown.
Make Sure That First Contact is Productive
You obviously want to establish a professional contact with the supplier company. However, it's not always as easy as you may think. Sometimes you speak to a different person everytime you give them a call.
Ideally, one or two people know you by name and remember certain details about your relationship. This not only expedites the conversation, but you're able to learn about the supplier more and trust them as the partnership grows.
Therefore, that first phone call needs to establish a contact with the company. If they can't provide you with that, it might be time to continue your search elsewhere. Sure, as your business talks get more serious you might get designated to speak with a different person in the future, but that first person is who you're looking to at the time being.
In addition, part of the productivity of that first call is getting a decent amount of information from them.
Your initial line should sound something like this:
“Hello, I'm launching a small <insert product type> store. I was wondering if I could get some information on your minimum order requirements and wholesale prices. Thanks!”
It's also essential to follow up with your emails or calls. Suppliers are busy companies with busy people. If you don't get a response, try again and keep your fingers crossed.
Ask for Samples
Not all suppliers provide samples, but it's becoming more and more common. This is particularly true for cheaper products. The reason you want a sample is that you should never start selling a product unless you've seen it, touched it, and tested it out.
This way you can even tell that to your customers and build some trust between you two.
Since there are so many suppliers out there, it makes sense to skip ones that don't give you samples.
Simply message them with this simple template:
“I like the way <product> looks online, but I was hoping to see a sample before we start selling. Would that be possible?”
If you're buying multiple products from the supplier, ask about receiving a batch with maybe 20 or 30 of the products. They may ask for some sort of payment, but most of the time it's only for the shipping. Then, as you test out the products and decide on the ones you like, you can continue to ask for samples until you test all of the products on your website.
Bargain for Better Prices
The only way to get a supplier to drop the price is to have some sort of bargaining chip or leverage. You can't request a discount just because you have a pulse.
Therefore, these are some things that you can use to bargain:
- Show that you can introduce the supplier to new markets.
- Reduce risk for the supplier.
- Consolidate your purchase orders.
- Try bundling different product types, as opposed to buying the same products in bulk.
- Mention the prices offered by the competition.
- Ask about incentives besides price cuts.
Avoid Dropshipping Arrangements at the Start
Yes, the dropshipping bug seems to be sweeping the ecommerce world, but that doesn't mean it's good for every business.
In fact, we highly recommend avoiding it as a startup since it's tough to keep prices low and deliver the products on-time.
And here's why:
Most of the time you're dropshipping from a place like China. Therefore, the shipping is going to take a very long time and you don't have much control over that. In addition, smaller stores typically don't get better rates.
However, an established retailer (physical or online) has leverage in the bargaining process. These companies can expand their sales with dropshipping and typically won't have to pay too much. Also, the dropshipped products are only a portion of the inventory, so not every item is taking a long time to ship.
So first find a great supplier that also does dropshipping. You can set up a dropshipping agreement once you've begun to gain traction.
Are You Ready to Find the Best Wholesale Suppliers for Your Online Store?
Not every supplier is going to call you back or be nice to you, but many of them are highly professional and courteous. After all, every successful company began as a startup, and suppliers are always looking for the next big fish.
If you have any questions about how to find the best wholesale suppliers for your online store, drop us a line in the comments below. In addition, feel free to share your stories about working with suppliers, both good and bad.
Feature image by Tony Craig