How to find a supplier that suits your needs

If you’re in the business of wholesaling or retailing a product, it’s vital to find a supplier that is reputable and suits your needs. Glitches in the supply chain or quality issues will damage your reputation, drive away customers and ultimately destroy the business.

Here are five effective ways to source a reputable supplier:

1.  Be clear on your own needs

Before setting out to find a supplier, you need to be clear as to what your own needs are, in order to focus your search and avoid sifting through hundreds of potential candidates. What sort of product do you want? What level of quality is required? What’s the maximum price that you can pay for each unit? What volumes do you intend to order and how frequently? Do you need product warranty and technical back-up? What’s the maximum lead-in time that you can sustain between placing and receiving the order? Must the supplier be able to offer you credit?

2. Research the background of the business

It’s vital to know what you’re dealing with. You can find many pertinent facts on a company’s website, via other online resources, or by getting in touch and asking the right questions. These should include: when the business was established; number of employees; production capacity; annual turnover; key clients; and background on the management team. A simple internet search can then frequently reveal if the company or any key managers have been involved in dubious activities. If the potential supplier is a medium-to-large organisation listed on a stock exchange it will, by law, place comprehensive information in the public domain and produce an audited annual report which provides a treasure trove of useful data.

3. Get third party references

In these days of marketing spin, it’s sometimes hard to determine whether what you’re reading is credible. So, to source a reputable supplier, cut through the hype and ask existing clients of the supplier what they think. Obviously, your direct competitors won’t be willing to help, but if the supplier operates in multiple business sectors and in different countries, you may be able to find non-competitor companies who are willing to say if they’re happy or otherwise. Global supplier websites like and are also useful sources of impartial information on international suppliers. And don’t forget the internet. If the supplier’s products are already on sale elsewhere, a search of consumer blogs and complaints websites may reveal quality or reliability issues that should raise a red flag.

4. Visit the trade shows and exhibitions

Does the supplier in question participate in local and/or international trade shows? Non-participation probably indicates a worrying lack of substance and, even if they do participate, be wary of the lone guy sitting on the low-price stand that comprises nothing more than a battered chair and desk. Even if you can’t attend the overseas shows, most organisers publish online exhibitor guides which you can use to check the supplier’s participation and size of stand.

5. Look abroad

Many product manufacturers, particularly at the lower-to-mid level, are based in low-cost markets like China and India. While these have price benefits, there are other problems: language and cultural differences; long supply lines; strict minimum-quantity rules; and legal difficulties in the event of a dispute. In these circumstances, it’s prudent to use a well-connected and experienced local middleman, at least until you’re properly up and running. The downside is that you’re adding another layer of cost, but a good middleman can be worth his or her weight in gold in sorting out unfathomable issues thousands of kilometres and many timezones away. National embassies, most of whom have staff dedicated to smoothing the way when it comes to business ties, may also be able to help with details of reputable and experienced suppliers in their home countries.

Spend time choosing a supplier and use all the tools at your disposal to make the right decisions. After all, without a reliable supply of products you don’t have a business!