One of the things that I really enjoy in my craft business is hunting around for different products to sell in my shop. Well, it’s not always as enjoyable as shopping in the shopping centre/mall as suppliers can be unreliable, and hard to find, and sometimes not very reasonable, but most of the time I like it. Shopping for my business satisfies my desire as female who likes to shop, but I don’t experience the guilt of trying to sneak past my husband with a new (and unnecessary) pair of shoes :) In this post I am going to look a different types of suppliers and some of their characteristics…
Starting from the top of the ‘Food Chain’:
- Manufacturers (the BIG league guys) – I’m not in the league of these suppliers, so I don’t have any experience of them. These are factories that you can commission to produce items for you. Often they will have a catalogue of products that they manufacture or you can commission you own designs for them to produce. They usually do not keep items in stock so you cannot order smaller amounts from such suppliers therefore, we are talking HUGE quantities (in the thousands) of a given product. If you can afford the investment this is by far the cheapest cost per unit option.
- Manufacturers (business to business) - I do work with such suppliers. These are factories (usually somewhat smaller than the aforementioned manufacturers) sometimes keep a limited amount of ready made stock, they will have a catalogue of items they produce, and they will also accept custom work for production. The minimum order amounts are typically large (in my experience) varying from 300 – 500 pieces upwards of a given item depending on what the item is. If you can keep a tight control on quality issues and you can afford the investment using this type of supplier is very cost effective solution.
- Wholesalers/agents to manufacturers – I also work with these folks. These suppliers aren’t quite the same as typical wholesalers as they usually work with a very small number of factories. These suppliers will hold ready made stock to sell to you and they will also act as agents for a small number (or one) factories taking your order and passing it onto the factory when the minimum order amount is sufficiently large enough. They will do all of this for a fee. The benefit of purchasing from an agent to a factory is that the minimum order amount will be somewhat smaller. The downsides are that they cost more than the above, if items are not in stock lead time can be a guessing game, and they are devilishly hard to find!
- Wholesalers (not direct to the public) – I also work with this kind of supplier. These suppliers will typically have a large and varied catalogue of items. To be able to purchase products from this type of supplier you will often be required to open an account (which usually involves proving to them that you own a business). The minimum order amounts are for this type of supplier are usually much smaller than that of manufacturers and they vary wildly from minimum cash amount (e.g. £50 – £250/$100 – $500) to minimum units per product. It really depends on the individual wholesaler. These suppliers cost a fair amount more than manufacturers, but the choice of items is usually very good, and the quality of items is usually more consistent than that of manufacturers. Wholesalers are also devilishly hard to find (goodness knows why!)
- Retail /Wholesalers – I also work these suppliers. Some business run a wholesale operation alongside their retail operation. These suppliers are similar to the guys above except the minimum order amounts are usually yet smaller, and they may not be so formal about opening accounts in order to buy wholesale.
- Retailers – that’s what we are! We hunt around for our supplies (and in my case I sell them on) and we process them by turning them into gorgeous handcraft before selling them to the public
I hope this was useful and it wasn’t stating the obvious to you. I didn’t know too much about suppliers when I first started my business and I know I must’ve sounded pretty naive ditzy when dealing with them for the first time!
Next time: I will talk about to approach suppliers and how to deal with them – like what stuff do you ask them in the first instance and what things to expect when dealing with them.