A friend of mine, also in the importing business, let me know recently that one of his top suppliers had recently cut him off. In other words, they let him know that after his next order, they would cease doing business with him. Why? Because he was ‘too small’. And this friend imports hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of product from this supplier a year.
I’ve met many foreigners who take it as an assumed fact that suppliers want to do business with you. It might just be naivety or it might be that they think because China is still a relatively poor country that every supplier must be dying for any business.
Many suppliers are looking for the home run customer. The Walmart and Carrefour’s of the world, or at least the company importing multiple containers a year. If you’re looking to import a pallet or two of goods, the supplier isn’t exactly going to be bending over backwards to get your business. The best case scenario is that you can convince these suppliers to do business with you but you will have almost no negotiating leverage at all. The worst case scenario is you can never convince them to do business with you, or they’ll cut you off eventually when they get an idea of your company’s true size.
The best advice in these cases may be to not overestimate your worth to a supplier. If you’re just starting off doing business with them, don’t try to suck every last penny out of them during negotiations. If you’ve dealt with them before, don’t be the squeakiest wheel and do things like complain when one of the thousand widget boxes coming slightly damaged. Even though you might be a small fish, if you’re the guy who keeps sending over small POs with minimal work on their end, they’re likely to be happy.
Most of all, build genuine relationships with your suppliers . Send gifts during important times, visit them if possible, and so on. If at the end of the day they look at you as a friend chances are they won’t be thinking of ways not to do business with you.
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