Finding Wholesale Suppliers in Asia and the Good Old Human Handshake
E-commmerce, drop shipping and the advent of Alibaba have changed business, and finding wholesale suppliers in Asia and around the world. But what ever happened to the human handshake?
Years ago, before the digital revolution and content marketing had really kicked in, a German friend of mine – who dealt in hardwood furniture – asked me to accompany him as an interpreter (he spoke no English) to India. Until then, he had been dealing with a manufacturer there via rudimentary emails and ordering from a laminated, dog-eared catalog with blurry photos he’d received through the post (remember post?). Things were not very clear or satisfying to say the least.
A week later, we arrived in Jodhpur and were greeted by a pair of affluent gentlemen brothers and provided comfortable rooms at their local country club. The days that followed were spent at the factory, where a small army of artisans produced beautifully crafted hardwood pieces entirely by hand. We were able to see the production first-hand, note the (good) working conditions and above all, do business face to face.
Funnily enough, I recently bumped into my friend in Leipzig (driving a Jag nonetheless) and had a chat. It turns out, though he still held a showroom, the entire business had adopted an e-commerce model. On top of that, he had expanded to include textiles, home decor and a range of products from different suppliers (all results of that first meeting) which then ran through drop shipping.
Straight to the trade site source
Sourcing products from Asia remains a highly attractive and cost-effective market across the globe, especially for e-commerce newcomers. Nowadays, B2B global trade sites like Alibaba are clear favourites for finding wholesale and manufacturing businesses in Asia.
What is Alibaba, you might ask? It’s only the most humongous online trade site for finding wholesale suppliers that deliver globally in China, which last year alone hosted $248 billion worth of online shopping transactions – making it,according to The Wall Street Journal, bigger than eBay and Amazon combined. Alibaba’s website interface makes it simple to find and do business with millions of connections to Chinese suppliers – hence their popularity – but many other such sites abound. Other Asian sources can be found using business directories like leads4biz, with online directories for Thailand, throughout Southeast Asia and globally.
Shake on it
Great, sounds easy for anyone looking to get into e-commerce, right? Well, as any entrepreneur will tell you, business ain’t easy. The biggest drawback to B2B trade sites is the lack of face-to-face contact and negotiation possibilities. Sure, you can get samples; sure you can talk on Skype; but the fact that middlemen and even scammers also use trade sites presents a definite risk. Even Alibaba, with a comprehensive vetting and security system, can’t weed out all the thieves. Here’s a handy resource written for Shopify by Alibaba on safely sourcing products via their platform.
In my opinion, the age-old handshake is still the safest and most human way to do business. Using trade sites and directories to narrow your search and actually find what you want is perfect – ah, the joys of the internet. Besides, going solely boots-on-the-ground can be confusing, time-consuming and costly. But finding suppliers and saying you’d like to come to meet and visit them and their production facilities has an array of pros and only few cons – of which solutions are to be had. I’ll give you the bad news first.
The cons and pros
- A trip to Asia can be costly
- Complications, like visas, travel and planning can be time-consuming
- My Thai is limited to chok-dee kap (cheers) and my Mandarin…
- The face-to-face handshake
- Quality controlling the product first-hand
- Seeing the production facilities first-hand
- Negotiating orders, pricing and delivery one-to-one
- Cutting out middlemen, scammers and con men
To address the cons, flights to Asia, especially from Europe, are actually very reasonable – Thailand more so. Plan to travel in the off-season, when flights and accommodation rates are slashed. Time? Hey, you need time and planning to carry-out a successful business no matter what. The language barrier can be an issue (even through trade sites), especially with small suppliers. But, most business people in Asia can communicate in English, or they have someone who can. If all else fails, hire a local interpreter.
As far as the pros, well, they speak for themselves. But one thing is certain: making the effort to go all the way to Asia and shake your supplier’s hand not only shows respect and honour (plus all the pros), but almost guarantees gaining a valuable source, in more ways than one, and making a business friend for life.
Paul Graham France is a Blogger and Online Marketing influencer at Archipalago Communications in Koh Samui Thailand