Finding the right product and/or service providers is essential to the success of any small business. But finding those that are both reliable and affordable is no small task, so be prepared to do your homework. You’ll need to thoroughly investigate all of your options in order to track down the top suppliers. Here are some tips on where to start your search.
Trade publications: No matter what type of business you run, there’s sure to be at least one trade publication out there that caters to it. If you’re just starting out and don’t know which trade publications cover your field, you can search trade magazines online or visit your local library and ask the reference librarian for help. You can also go to TradePub.com for a list of free trade publications.
Once you find trade publications in your area, you’ll see small display ads at the backs of the magazines. These can help you find suppliers. If you’re seeking merchandise, look closely to find out if there are any minimum purchase requirements.
On the Web: The Internet is another good place to find suppliers for your business, particularly those that don’t advertise in trade and other publications. Search for “suppliers,” “manufacturers,” and “distributors” of the products and/or services you’re looking for. You can also search directories of manufacturers. ThomasNet is a comprehensive resource for industrial information, products, and services. The site also has online supplier catalogs with detailed buying and specifying information. MacRaesBluebook is another good source of contact information for companies that supply industrial companies.
Once you’ve come up with a list of potential suppliers, it’s time to do some solid comparison shopping. And, while price is certainly an important factor, it’s far from the only issue to consider. Saving a few dollars doesn’t mean much if your supplier is unreliable or dishonest. It may cost you clients. Look for feedback ratings from other businesses that use the companies on your list. This information is often automatically displayed online for consumers to read. If it isn’t, ask the supplier for the names of some clients you can contact for references. Also, running a simple credit check with one of the leading credit bureaus, like Dun & Bradstreet, can help reassure you that a supplier won’t go out of business when you need it most.
Here are some other factors to include in your supplier selection process.
Consider local vendors first: Before you get ready to place an order with an out-of-state vendor, try to find local suppliers for the same goods. This can save you a considerable amount on shipping and reduce the time it takes to get your order. Narrow your initial Internet search for suppliers down to those in your area and examine these businesses carefully. Again, compare company ratings and references, as well as shipping times and rates, to find the best matches for you.
Additional sources: There are other places you should look when searching for suppliers. Trade shows offer a great opportunity to talk with a number of potential suppliers all at the same time. Your local chamber of commerce may also be able to give you recommendations. And then, of course, there are your friends and business acquaintances. Remember, you’re more likely to get an honest assessment of a supplier’s strengths and weaknesses from someone who has used its services.
You might even check out eBay. Though it’s best known as a place for consumers to buy or sell merchandise, it’s now also a place where many businesses sell used and new equipment or supplies. But keep a careful eye on prices. If you’re looking at products sold by distributors, you may be able to get a better deal directly from the manufacturers.
Susan Konig is a freelance writer in New York. She has been writing about finance for 15 years, for publications including Crain’s New York Business, The New York Times, and Registered Representative, a national publication for financial advisors.