Have we shipped a million of these things?
July 25, 2007 10:51 AM   Subscribe

How to sell imported goods to local businesses... If you've got any experience selling wholesale (or other relevant qualifications)...

I'd appreciate your suggestions on tactics for approaching local merchants and retail managers to get them to stock a product I would be importing.
Also, what kind of price markup is appropriate? Recommended method for addressing delays in transportation? Opensource product/shipping tracking software?
Thanks askme.

ps. The imported product is a generic of a branded good.
posted by acro to Work & Money (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The markup from wholesale to retail varies widely with the type of product being wholesaled. There will be an industry standard for this. You need to find out what that is. You seem unwilling to divulge the type of product or type of store that would be your customer, so I doubt you will get a good answer here. Try taking a local merchant to lunch.

For addressing delays in transportation, I suggest you keep stock on hand and deliver your product when you say it will be delivered. If you anticipate delays, you need to push back the promised delivery date.
posted by yohko at 12:06 PM on July 25, 2007

Thanks for your suggestions yohko.

It is an item which could be carried in grocery, diy home depot type stores, auto repair stores... even dollar stores. This Google answers page had some interesting links... one of which was bizstats.com/ (Industry statistics generated based on market and business size).
posted by acro at 12:39 PM on July 25, 2007

I have only tangential advice: many sales channels are dominated by pay-to-play arrangements. If you intend to deal with a chain, you'd best be prepared to fork out large quantities of cash in advance of any orders.

...in publishing we had to pay a few thousand as "co-marketing" fees in order to get a copy on the shelves at a chain store. Continued presence in the stores required regular infusions of cash. Cash to have a book flipped cover-out on the shelf rather than spine-out, cash for space on a table near the checkout, et cetera.

Failing to pay up on these "optional opportunities" on an ongoing basis resulted in nonexistent orders for your next publication. You could skip a month or two, but that was it unless the book was a monster seller (the kind of book that made people visit the store in the first place).

I mention this mostly so you can know about it in advance, and have your reply ready when they ask. Of course, they'll only ask if they're already interested in carrying the product, so it's probably a good sign...
posted by aramaic at 12:56 PM on July 25, 2007

If you are trying to get a product into home depot or any other large chain store (Family Dollar, Autozone, etc.), the buyers are usually working out of the corporate offices, and individual managers do not usually have much say in what products are carried in the store. These are not generally considered "local businesses".

If you are limiting yourself to businesses in your local area, you will want to focus on those where you will be able to meet with a person who can make a decision about purchasing your product. You will want to speak with either the buyer or the manager. In most cases you are more likely succeed in this if you visit in person.

Probably, your best tactic here will be to use networking, go to clubs or meetings for local business owners. Perhaps your product would also work in cell phone stores or something like that. You might want to deliver the product in person so you have a chance to speak with your customer, give them assistance with displaying the product, etc. It is inconvenient for a buyer to add a supplier who only sells one product -- it takes time to put together orders. You need to make things as easy as possible for them.
posted by yohko at 1:13 PM on July 25, 2007

I'm no expert but this is Metafilter so...

A classic small business formula I've heard is the price you sell should be 25% cost of materials, 25% labor, 25% for the things like accounting and operating expenses and 25% profit. This is more a manufacturing thing then a distribution thing but it might be useful.

I also once spoke to a guy who made clothing for a large retailer and he said that the retailer wasn't interested in it unless they could triple the wholesale price and be competitive at a retail price. Plus pricing for distribution is a good way to get higher sales. So make sure your distributors are making loads of money off your product. They'll promote it then out of their own self interest.

Of course, all of this doesn't matter, because you should charge as much as the market will bear taking into account that volume/demand generally goes up as price falls. You have to find that sweet spot that maximizes profits.

I also second the idea that you should take the customer to lunch and pick his/her brains. Maybe if you want to a trial run, you could do it with someone who was in different geographic market than your initial target market.
posted by FastGorilla at 1:24 PM on July 25, 2007

This question is essentially - how do I run a business. Check out community college classes in your area - they may have a good overview class that covers some of marketing/selling/merchandising/pricing stuff you're going to need to know to make a living.
But if you just want to dive in - it's all about feet on the street. Call a store - make an appointment - and give them your spiel. Have samples, a price point and lead times. Be prepared to take an order - also be prepared to walk away without one - repeat. Practice what you're going to say - you likely won't be given a lot of time if any. Start with local independent or small chain stores.
It's easier for a retailer to move a branded product - so your version needs to have some advantage. My guess is that this is going to be price. Your pricing strategy should reflect that.
posted by Wolfie at 1:44 PM on July 25, 2007

Any suggestions for web-based or local applications, e.g. Highrise.. ? Wolfie---tagged:)
Thanks for all the practical suggestions answerers--anyone who can speak to the manufacturing side, (likely in China) I'd love to hear from you too.
posted by acro at 2:00 PM on July 25, 2007

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