Starting your own import business isn’t all that different from starting any other business. There are more details and headaches when you’re dealing internationally, but the same could be said about certain domestic industries and even certain companies!
Here’s an interesting fact: according the U.S. Department of Commerce, only about 4% of import companies are the “big guys” - the Targets and Wal-Marts, for example. The other 96% of importers are people like you and me - entrepreneurs and small business owners. So what did those 96% do to become successful importers? The following are strategies to help you start a successful import business.
Focus On You
The most important factor of success in an import business - indeed, in any business - is you. You must be willing to take on all of the various facets of starting a business. As a business owner, you will be responsible for bookkeeping, inventory tracking, etc. You can always hire people to help you, but at the end of the day, the company is your responsibility. Therefore, make sure you are passionate about the products you are planning to import! This will only help you with your new business. Passion is the key element to success in any business.
Focus On The Business
Make sure that you are choosing products that people want to buy! Before you start importing, make sure you do your homework and research whether there is a need in the marketplace for your type of product. One easy way to research is to go online and search how many potential competitors there are in your marketplace. If everyone is selling your product online, you know you have a problem! Bottom line--before you invest time and money into any import business, make sure that you have a unique product that people are willing to buy.
Focus On The Market
Focusing on your customers specific interests will ensure that you are not only supplying your customer the right product, but also that you’re supplying exactly the right kind of product that fits your customers needs!
For instance, is you market more concerned with quality or price? Is there a certain feature that dominates their purchasing decision? Is color and size an issue? The more you focus in on what matters to your customer, the more successful your import business will be!
Focus On The Source
Now that you’ve done your research, you are now ready to start looking across the waters (or, at least, the border - we import more from Canada and Mexico than China and Japan). Just as if you were sourcing domestically, there are a number of ways to find someone who will sell you exactly what you’re looking for. You can directly contact the factory, find a regional sales representative, find a distributor, deal with a retailer, etc.
There is no right or wrong answer - it mostly depends on you and your marketplace. For instance, if your client relationships are time-intensive, you may want to use a middleman to find your products for you, or you may find the products and let the import agent handle all the delivery details.
The good news is that there are a variety of places available today that will help you find product suppliers for your import business. Thomas.net,Globalsources.com, trade publications, trade shows, import/export departments, economic development agencies, Chamber of Commerce - the list goes on.
The important thing for you is to find a great supplier. Just as if you were buying from a manufacturer in Delaware, do your due diligence on your international supplier. What other clients do they have? Are they on-time and dependable? Do they have a good reputation in their industry? Are they willing to start a relationship with you or are they transaction-focused?
Focus On The Relationship
Once you’ve found a good source, maintain that relationship like you would any other. Be professional, keep your commitments, and hold them to theirs. Once you’ve established a reputation with the company, you may be able to get extended payment terms, suggest product improvements, and receive preferential treatment that can give you an edge in the marketplace.
Again, starting an import business isn’t much different from starting one that sources domestically. Make sure you’re ready, make sure your business is ready, know your market, know your supplier or agent - then go for it!