The advent of ecommerce presented people with unprecedented opportunities to start businesses with little or no startup capital. Ecommerce eliminates the need for expensive warehouse and retail space, as well as tying up business capital on inventory.
Consider, for example, what steps you would need to take to open a retail establishment to sell large or bulky items, such as furniture. If you want to sell your furniture online, you only need a website and relationships with suppliers who drop-ship products to customers. Rather than managing commercial real estate spaces, you can spend time finding the right suppliers for your business. Here’s how to accomplish that.
Step 1: Identify and understand the distribution channels for the furniture you want to sell.
Will the manufacturer work directly with you, or will you need to deal with a wholesale or regional distributor? You may have better success dealing with smaller manufacturers that do not have their own sales and marketing channels.
Step 2: Consider sourcing products from online B2B marketplaces.
Alibaba.com is the leading B2B marketplace to connect manufacturers, wholesalers, and distributors, particularly for products manufactured in Asia. Consider Global Sources or Buyer Zone for domestic (USA) manufacturing, and EC21 and EC Plaza for Korean products. If your business places emphasis on local craftsmen, online marketplaces can also give you leads on local manufacturers.
Step 3: Selecting suppliers is not a one-time process.
Supplier service and quality can change quickly. Look for new furniture manufacturers and sources on a regular basis. Consider setting up a Google Alert with keywords for new furniture manufacturers or suppliers. Add geographic search terms if you are interested in local or region-specific sources. Go to trade shows and subscribe to industry journals to find new suppliers and ideas.
Step 4: Understand the supplier’s return policies.
Customers will return products, even large products like furniture. Verify that you understand a manufacturer’s or wholesaler’s return policies, and that your policy coincides with it. Maintain a strong relationship with suppliers to smooth over problems with returns.
Step 5: Coordinate multiple suppliers that offer the same product.
Maintaining relationships with multiple suppliers of the same product will protect your ecommerce business against any one supplier’s problems. Managing multiple suppliers, however, can pose other challenges. You will need mechanisms to distinguish one supplier’s products from another and to synchronize data from each supplier for drop shipments.
Step 6: Price is only one consideration.
End users scour the web for the lowest priced items they can find. Your ecommerce furniture business will likely disappoint its customers if you select suppliers solely based on which vendor offers the lowest prices. Quality and reliability are equally important, if not more important than price. You will have few repeat customers if the furniture you sell them falls apart or if shipments fail to arrive when promised.
Step 7: Develop a true partnership with your suppliers.
Look for a supplier that you can treat as a partner in your business. You are competing with other online furniture stores, all of which may want to work with your suppliers. Maintaining good supplier relationships involves paying them on time and maintaining open communication channels with them. Understand that competition for unique furniture products can be severe. A supplier will be less likely to work with your business if you are not perceived as taking care of your own customers. Your ability to serve your own customers will reflect on the supplier. You will reap additional benefits if you set your ecommerce business up to make the supplier look good.