So, you’ve found some potential wholesalers of products you need, and you think you’re ready to buy. Not so fast. Buying from wholesalers isn’t as simple as slapping down your credit card. When approaching possible suppliers, you first need to “sell” them on working with you.
Before You Make Contact
Contacting a potential supplier for the first time is sort of like going on a job interview. Preparation is key. Just as you wouldn’t show up to an interview and ask, “What does your company make?” you can’t approach a supplier and be unfamiliar with their company.
Our article “How to Find Wholesale Sources of Products” explains the questions need to ask and find the answers to about potential suppliers. You’ll find many of these answers on the companies’ Web sites. Do as much research as much as you can before making contact. It’s a good idea to create a spreadsheet listing all your potential suppliers and the information you have about each one. Then, when you contact them, you can just plug the information you receive into the spreadsheet. This also makes it easy to compare the pros and cons once you’ve got all the information.
Note: One thing you won’t find on the Web is the company’s wholesale unit price. If the general public could see this information, they’d be less likely to pay retail mark-ups, and retailers couldn’t stay in business. Also, wholesale prices vary depending on the amount you purchase, your relationship with the vendor, and many other factors.
Next, get your paperwork in order. Wholesalers cannot sell to you unless you can prove you’re a legitimate business. Contact your state’s department of licensing to get your business license and tax identification number. You’ll also need to contact your state’s department of revenue to get a resale certificate, which is required to buy products wholesale. (If you contact a supplier and they don’t ask for this information, it’s often a sign that they’re a scam. Legitimate wholesalers require these documents.)
Finally, get your professional image in order. Set up a business email address, and use business cards and letterhead in any correspondence.
This may seem like a lot of trouble, especially if all you want are answers to a few quick questions. But in order to sell to you, wholesalers must set up an account for you. This is often a time-consuming process, and before spending that time, wholesalers want to make sure you are a legitimate business and will be around long enough to make their effort worthwhile. First impressions matter.
You’ve probably found some suppliers that you really want to work with, and others you aren’t as excited about. It’s still a good idea to make your first contacts with the third-tier or second-tier suppliers. Consider it a “practice run” to get some experience before you approach the company you really want to use.
When you call or email a supplier, be friendly, brief and to the point. If making a call, have a list of questions ready (your spreadsheet) and be prepared with all the information you will need (tax ID, etc.). If emailing, make sure your emails are punctuated, capitalized, and spelled correctly. Never send mass emails to a group of suppliers; contact each company individually.
Be patient. It may take suppliers a while to get back to you. In many industries, wholesaling is seasonal; if you contact someone when the holiday season is in full swing, you’re not likely to be their top priority. Since consumers begin holiday shopping in October or earlier, the holiday season for many wholesale suppliers starts as early as July.
Building a Relationship
Once you’ve got an account with a supplier, work to create a strong relationship. This means being prompt, professional, and courteous. People prefer to do business with people they know and trust, so get to know your supplier in person. Don’t rely solely on email; talk to them on the phone and visit them at their facility or a trade show.
Paying on time is also crucial to relationship building. It can also save you money since many wholesalers offer discounts for early payments. If you consistently pay on time, you may eventually get even better price breaks. And if you run into a cash-flow problem, your supplier will be more willing to work with you if you have a strong track record.
Karen Axelton is Chief Content Officer at GrowBiz Media (www.growbizmedia.com), a content and consulting company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses.