The Guide to Operating a Trading Company: Sourcing Products

David - About Business - August 23, 2020

Forget about Tesla and Amazon. We ain't trading stocks nor options here. We'll talk about how to operate a trading company, and more specifically, how to source your products and find the right supplier for your business.

In this article, I'll tell you:

  • What you should know before even looking for suppliers for your products.

  • A complete step-by-step approach to find the right supplier for your products.

  • What's the exact email template I used to find suppliers for my own products.

  • My experience-backed tips to optimize your workflow, reduce your costs, and enhance the overall quality of your products.

Let's begin!

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How to Source Products for Your Trading Company and Find a Reliable Supplier

That is probably the most important part of operating a trading company: Your product. You have to collaborate with an excellent supplier to provide your customers with high-quality, durable, safe, and practical products. But here again, it will feel like looking for a needle in a haystack.

The question is: How to find a good supplier for my products?

Before we even get there, please note two crucial points:

  • Finding a good supplier is hard, and it takes time and money. Once you have one, you'd better take care of your business relationship like it's a marriage. You really don't want to waste time and money looking for another one. Deal with the ups and downs, and strive daily to establish trust and proficiency between the two of you.

  • Before even looking for a supplier, make sure you precisely know what you want, how you want it, and what you expect. Your supplier is responsible for turning your schemes and models into tangible products, but he's not necessarily in charge of advising you.

Now that you know the basics, let's see how to find a reliable supplier:

The Guide to Operating a Trading Company: Sourcing Products - Illustration - Picture
  1. Define what you're looking for: Do you need a basic prototype? Or a full-fledged product? In any case, you must have a solid wireframe for your product. You should already know the dimensions, the materials, the necessary electronic components, the critical features, the safety measures and certifications, and so on. However, if you're still in the prototyping phase, you could simply ask your potential supplier to give you advice on the materials, electronic chips, and other business basics they might know better than you.



  2. Prepare your files: If you know already what's needed for turning your files into tangible products, prepare. For instance, if you're producing a book, you should prepare your files for printing and make sure all the settings are as close as possible to what your potential supplier may ask (CMYK colors, inner margins, separate cover file, dimensions, etc). This extra step will save you time, but make sure to document yourself properly before you do anything. (I once found myself formatting a book using the wrong dimensions)



  3. Search: Go on Google, Baidu, and Alibaba, and just search for suppliers for your product. For instance, look out for: "Book Printer China / Portugal / United Kingdom", "< Product > Factory / Manufacturer / Supplier < Country >". Then, write down the name, website, email, phone, and other details of every supplier that looks legit and trustworthy. Usually, a list of 10 suppliers is enough. But don't hesitate to take it further if your product is complex or has specific technical / safety needs.



  4. Reach out, reach out everywhere: Send an email to every single supplier you've listed prior. Make sure you include the basic technical requirements just to weed out the suppliers that don't have the actual equipment to meet your needs. Then ask for a rough estimate of how much it would cost to produce N pieces of your product. And obviously, don't forget the greetings, the closing, and the overall politeness. Eventually, send the exact same email to every supplier to make sure there's no bias. This step is crucial, and it will quickly let you know which suppliers can understand your needs, ask you the right questions to go further, and properly express themselves in your language if they're from a foreign country.

  5. Read until the end of this article to find an email sample. That's the one I've used to have my books printed.

    The Guide to Operating a Trading Company: Sourcing Products - Illustration - Picture
  6. Order samples: Once you've set apart the suppliers that look legit and trustworthy from the bad ones, ask for samples. You either ask for prototypes of your own product, or for samples of products they made in the past and that are similar to yours. In the same fashion, you either ask for the exact same thing to every supplier, or you ask for a different version with slight changes every time. In any case, that step will also set apart the suppliers that know what they do from the other ones. A good supplier will tell you what you should improve (colors, dimensions, curves, 3D structure, materials, etc) based on their knowledge and experience. Besides, this step will cost you between $70 and more. It is expensive to produce only one unit of a product and ship it worldwide. Just don't get mad when you realize that one prototype costs more than ordering 3000 pieces.



  7. Review and iterate: Let your suppliers know that you've received their samples and you'll now be checking them to make sure everything's alright. Check every single thing, take pictures and videos, and look closely at how your product is packaged. Also, don't be baffled if the product feels cheap or not well-finished. This is why it's called a sample. Some suppliers even have "junk" materials they only use for samples so they keep their premium materials for bulk production. Inspect your samples, and write down what's good and what's bad about each of them. When you're done, take everything you liked from each supplier, and try to combine these features for the next sample. Then keep ordering tweaked and improved samples from the suppliers you like most until you reach what's closest to the finished product.



  8. Negotiate and ask for prices all along: It is extremely common to work with suppliers who usually increase their official prices just to make sure that, post-negotiation, they're still profitable. Don't hesitate a single second to ask for lower prices while keeping polite and showing composure. This is pure business. Beyond that, keep asking for prices and quotations all along. That will help you gauge the financial investment that your project requires, and let you check if your suppliers change their prices over time.



  9. Marriage vows, aka NDA: It's called a Non-Disclosure Agreement, and it basically enforces the fact that everything that's shared between you and the supplier is strictly confidential. It's always a good thing to sign such a document to protect your work from theft and plagiarism. However, please note that this is just paperwork, and your supplier can still find a thousand ways to spread your work without you knowing. One strategy to prevent such a thing is to work with different suppliers that send their partial products to another factory that will assemble everything into the final product.

Like I said prior, the journey's long and expensive. But the pleasure associated with receiving your product and have it look exactly like you had imagined will make up for all the hurdles.

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Gain an Edge Over the Competition: Source Your Products Like an Expert

Here I'll be sharing with you my personal insights, and the tips I learned while sourcing products for my own company.

  • Find a supplier for the packaging of your product: Logistics companies are quite limited and expensive when it comes to packaging. It's much more comfortable to have everything produced in bulk and assembled at once. Let your suppliers handle both the product and its packaging, so when your containers reach your warehouses, everything's ready to ship or almost.

  • Adapt for transportation: It is truly infuriating to see your products broken because of transportation. And you've got no idea how mistreated your packaging and products will be along their journey. Hence make sure they're well-protected. Beyond that, if your products are large and heavy, try to adapt their dimensions for the equipment that will be used to lift and deliver them. In the long run, that could save you a lot of money. You really want to fill containers and pallets as much as possible.

  • Ask more: You'd be surprised how diversified suppliers are. They often large factories with a variety of machines and equipment, and they certainly have other customers with weird requests and needs. Don't hesitate to ask your supplier if they have other services or special features they could offer.

  • Ask for certifications: If your product must meet specific technical requirements or safety measures, you should make it tested and certified by specialized labs. They will thoroughly test your product and give you a detailed report that addresses every concern you may have. Besides, if your supplier takes your product through a lab and sends you a certificate, check it very closely. It's common for business to produce fake papers to get away with the extra costs that come with testing and certifying new products.

Hope it helps!

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The Email Template I Used to Source My Own Products

Here's an email I sent to one of the first potential suppliers I was working with for my books. It's nothing too fancy. Clear and concise.

Hi,

I found your contact details online, and figured you were a book printer.

I need to print 3000pcs, but I need to see a sample / draft of the final print before ordering (I can pay for the sample).

Details about the book :

- Binding: Hardcover

- No. of pages: 140 + cover

- Colors : On every page, including cover

- Paper: Something quite thick, 100g I think for the interior.

- Paper coating: Glossy, but the reader will have to write on the paper, so something between glossy and matte.

- Colors used: Black (#000000) White (#FFFFFF) and shades of Yellow.

- Format: 5' x 8' (127x203mm, Junior Legal US)

- Coat on a specific word on the cover to make it look like 3D.

Is it something you're able to do? Also, would you have pieces of advice as to paper thickness and coat?

Thank you so much in advance for your help and availability.

Best regards,

David

Feel free to use it and tweak it for your needs!

The Guide to Operating a Trading Company: Sourcing Products - Illustration - Picture

Additional Resources

If you're interested in starting your own business, these resources could be useful:

Let me know in the comments what you'd like to learn about! I'd be glad to help with anything business-related.

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