So, the exciting news here is that product number two (still top secret!) is one step closer.  For the past few weeks I’ve been back on Alibaba contacting suppliers.  You might remember that last time this was all new to me and I was winging it a fair bit.  This time, I’m doing things differently.

Firstly, I did my research into what’s already out there.  (I did this last time, using Pat Flynn’s Will it Fly, but I’ve made it simpler.)  I’m now just going onto Amazon and looking at who else is selling similar products, what price they sell them for, what the spec is, and what the reviews are saying.  There are two aims here – one is to differentiate my product, the other is to see what people are complaining about and ensure my product will be better/fix those issues!

I then wrote a really detailed specification, ensuring it covered everything I wanted from the product.  I also included the fact I wanted the quote based on EXW shipping terms (see the different options here and a more detailed explanation), so I knew all suppliers would charge like-for-like.  I asked for a really low MOQ, thinking it was best to start really low and negotiate up if needed.  As well as, the product spec, I asked:

  • Whether they could meet the spec I had outlined and to provide photos if so.  (Note, I only contacted suppliers who looked like they could – more on that later.)
  • Whether the company was a manufacturer or trading company. This is important, as you want to be dealing directly with the manufacturer – to keep the price lower and avoid adding a third person to the negotiations.
  • What their lead times are (for both the sample and final order).  
  • How much a sample costs to produce.  (I also want to know if it will be refunded from the final order – but I don’t ask that now!)
  • What packaging options are available.

The specification becomes your template email for your initial communication. (I added an introduction to me and to Tiny Chipmunk.)  I then went about looking for suppliers on Alibaba – using a slightly refined criteria to before.

Firstly, I searched for suppliers, not products. You can change this option using the little dropdown, to the left of the search box. This means you’re searching for everyone who supplies the product you’re looking for.

When the results came up, I clicked on the Suppliers tab (the default is Products again) and applied a few filters.  I look for ‘Gold Suppliers’ (although this can be brought, so isn’t the only criteria) and ones that offer ‘Trade Assurance’.  This means that if you have a problem with your order, prior to shipping, they refund you.  I’m looking at creating an agreement with the supplier, with similar terms (more on that in another post) and possibly using an inspection company anyway – but, still, not a bad filter.

I then looked at two main things:

  1. Which countries are their top markets.  You can see this for all suppliers, right on the results page.  The general assumption is that suppliers whose main markets are North America and Western Europe have to meet a higher standard for quality.
  2. What other products they do.  (You find this by opening the listing and clicking on Product Categories.)  This is important too, as you want to see that the range of things they produce makes sense.  (So just textiles, or kids toys, for example.)  If they offer everything from dog food to cleaning cloths it would suggest that they’re a trading company, which just adds an unnecessary middleman to the process. Also, I want someone who specialises in whatever it is they produce – which I think is more likely if they only focus on that one niche.

As you find suppliers you like the look of, click on the heart to add them to your favourites.  (This is important!)  At the same time, I put the details into a simple spreadsheet with their name, the link to their Alibaba page and the date I contact them.  I add fields for the date they reply, the contact, sample cost, quote and any notes – which I’ll update later.

I completely ignore the pricing information on their pages for now. I’ve found it has no bearing at all on the quote you end up getting, so don’t rule suppliers in (and out) on that basis.

The only other criteria I do consider is how long a supplier’s been going for (this is displayed).  Generally, the longer the better as this means that they’re an actual company (so you’re less likely to lose all your money) and they’re more experienced.  I did find that these companies were quoting slightly higher (although that just might be for this product), but I guess that makes sense if they have an established track record.

Now it’s time to get in touch!  The reason for saving suppliers as favourites, is you can paste in your spec as a template (obviously adding a bit about yourself and making it into more of an introductory communication) and contact them all at once.  Hopefully you’re contacting around 20-5 suppliers (this sounds like a lot, but, bear in mind some won’t reply, some will take ages to reply, some won’t be able to do what you require, some won’t have great English, etc, so this quickly gets whittled down to a handful you might want to work with.)

If you now click on your favourites (top right), there’s an option to contact all. Simply paste in your text, click send, and you’re done!

Next time, I’ll talk a bit more about how I narrowed down responses, negotiated on price and MOQ (minimum order quantity) and chose samples (this time, I am getting more than one).

If you’ve made it to the end of this long post, thank you and good luck!