Wholesale inventory how-to?
January 21, 2010 1:15 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in starting an online store that caters to a specific niche. So how do I acquire products for it?

I love shops like Patina Stores, Modcloth, Delight and Fred Flare -- smallish operations, funky and stylish choices.

My imagined (niche gardening-related) store would have some overlap with products they carry (for example, Patina has in the past carried Cray-printed garden trowels).

But when I was thinking of the logistics of setting up my own little online place, I realized I have no clue how one even approaches acquiring inventory without doing it through retail avenues.

Is there some kind of wholesale organization that little stores like that 'shop' from, for their warehouse? I know that industry-only textiles places exist, so is it some kind of setup like that, where you have to buy a certain amount of product?

Thanks in advance for helping with this obvious noob question. If you have information on how an operation like this is set up and run, I could obviously use the education.
posted by lhall to Work & Money (5 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Though this is entirely from the perspective of someone who hasn't done something like this (but has considered it) one approach might be:

Start reading and following some of the handmade/indie blogs out there and contact artists featured there who appeal to you directly. See if they would be willing to wholesale their product to you.

Much of what's unique is going to be found from independent artists and creators, and I like the idea of dealing directly with the artists who you want to feature, so it seems like this might be a good way to start.
posted by finitejest at 1:43 PM on January 21, 2010

Also, consider contacting people who sell on sites like Etsy and ask if they will wholesale or drop ship. Drop shipping can be ideal since you don't have to stock inventory.
posted by Elminster24 at 1:47 PM on January 21, 2010

My friend who runs a vaguely similar store either buys direct from people who make stuff by hand, or goes to conventions where these people showcase their stuff.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:57 PM on January 21, 2010

Trade shows. Closed to individuals, open to buyers for related vendors. For example, the Boston Gift Show, will have vendors with a wide variety of items. Buyers place orders at the show for windup toys, clocks, tshirts, you name it. There are trade shows for most lines of business, in most large areas.

Sales reps. I used to own a bookstore, and sales reps from major publishers worked with me to let me know what was coming out.

Trade organizations. Ex. American Booksellers Assn is a very active, non-profit representing the needs of independent booksellers. Most trades aren't kucky enough to have a trade organization that excellent, but if there's a trade organization, i.e., Idaho Retail Merchants Association, they'll have an annual meeting and be a resource. Most vendors want to find outlets for their goods, so they buy the list of members, and send catalogs to appropriate businesses.

State & local Chamber of Commerce and Small Business Administration are in the phone book and are useful resources. The CofC never did me one bit of good, but if you're starting a business, you should try every resource you can find. The Sm. Bus. Adm. was very, very helpful.

Use the web to identify potential vendors, and contact them, and ask for their wholesale terms. Contact etsy sellers and negotiate deals. Imagine goods that you wish to sell, and get people to make those goods.
posted by theora55 at 2:15 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

My sister used to own a retail shop in another area of business than yours, and she bought all of her inventory through a distributor, rather than going to individual manufacturers. Not sure if a distributor of the kinds of products you want to sell exists, but make sure you find out!!
posted by wwartorff at 6:28 PM on January 21, 2010

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