Once you've identified the product or products you wish to import, you'll need to find suppliers to meet those needs. International trade platforms such as Alibaba, Global Sources, ThomasNet, and Kompass and online wholesale trade directories are great places to start as they provide considerable resources. The U.S. Embassy of the country you are interested in importing from 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).
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 current online availability. Seek out and arrange to attend trade exhibitions in your industry to locate and form relationships with suppliers. Alternatively, to contain costs, look into local trade shows that feature an "international hall" to source suppliers.
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
A few things to look for in ensuring a good fit between you in your capacity as an importer and a potential supplier:
- Good chemistry with key contact—preferably with all top management—of a potential supplier helps ensure company-wide commitment to import agreements you might make with them
- 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
- A company 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
Once your list of potential companies ready and willing to supply the product you wish to import has been narrowed down, making sure they're able to keep up with customer demand is the next important step. Here are some ways to check:
- Research production capabilities. Google the supplier entities and/or refer back to the four trade platforms 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.
- Survey their advertising, PR, website, blog, social media. Look for billboards, print ads, radio, coupons in newspaper inserts, a social media presence, PR campaign, sophisticated website, or active blog. All these forms of company exposure improve the chance that the supplier can keep up with consumer demand.
- Ask. 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, it's important to establish mutual requirements and expectations to ensure that you both 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.