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How to Find a Wholesale Distributor

10 tips for buying wholesale products for your retail business.

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Elevated view of large distribution warehouse
Alistair Berg/ Digital Vision/ Getty Images

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 guide on selecting products to sell from About.com Guide to Retailing Shari Waters first. 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.

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.

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.

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