Whether you’re opening a shop or launching an ecommerce store, it’s an exciting time to start a product business. And there are more options for sourcing your products than ever before.
But let’s start with an important question: are you planning to sell products from other brands, or are you looking to sell (or even make) your own products? This guide is mainly focused on sourcing existing products for resale, but we’ve also touched on how to create your own products, so just jump straight down to point seven if that’s your thing.
How to source products: 7 methods
- Wholesale marketplaces
- Trade shows
- Local craft markets
- White labelling
- Making or manufacturing your own products
1. Wholesale marketplaces
Marketplaces have brought product sourcing into the 21st century. Okay yes, we may be a little biased here — but truly, if you’re looking for a flexible, cost- and time-effective way to source retail-ready products, they’re your best bet.
With over 5,000 independent wholesale suppliers selling across 300 product categories — including skincare, fashion, and homeware — here at CREOATE, we have many different types of retail stores covered.
CREOATE works similarly to other marketplaces you probably already know and love, such as Etsy — the difference is that in this case, you’re buying in bulk for your store, rather than just one item for yourself.
We offer up to 60-day payment terms, and the chance to return any unsold stock within 60 days (so long as it’s from brands you haven’t bought from before), meaning you can take new products for a spin absolutely risk-free. It’s the perfect option for new retailers who are cautious about taking on too much stock, or more established ones looking to shake up their shelves.
Simply create an account to view wholesale prices, and start shopping for your business. But as we don’t yet cover all product areas, or all regions, below are a couple of other wholesale marketplaces to consider.
TradeIndia is India’s largest B2B ecommerce platform, covering exporters, manufacturers and suppliers from across the globe.
Where CREOATE and other similar marketplaces focus on working with small, independent suppliers, TradeIndia doesn’t specify — so you’ll find everything from disposable face masks to electronics.
Alibaba is a Chinese wholesale marketplace which was founded way back in 1999, and is popular the world over.
Like TradeIndia, Alibaba doesn’t have a focus on independent and handmade products; instead, it casts a wide net, and focuses on low prices as its main USP.
2. Trade shows
Trade shows are events (normally held in stadiums, or large convention centres) where suppliers can showcase their products to retailers. They usually take place over a period of a few days.
Some of the most popular trade shows include:
- Maison&Objet (Paris) — for homeware, gifts, and all things hand crafted
- MAGIC (Las Vegas) — for fashion, footwear and accessories
- Outdoor Trade Show (OTS) (Birmingham) — for outdoor and sports gear and clothing
Trade shows have traditionally been a very popular way for retailers to source new products. Being able to hold a product in your hands and speak to the person behind the brand face to face is something that’s hard for a marketplace to replicate.
The problem with trade shows is that they’re a huge drain on both time and money — both for you, and for the brands you’re looking to work with. If you want to support truly up-and-coming, small, independent brands, you’re unlikely to find them showing at an event that costs thousands of pounds to attend.
3. Local craft markets
If stocking local products is important to you, look up your local craft market or makers’ market. This can be a great place to connect with local artists and makers which you can then reach out to about wholesale options.
Of course, you’ll need to come to an arrangement that works for both of you. Working with someone who is hand making all their products may mean you can’t always get a lot of stock quickly, and you’ll have to meet in the middle when it comes to things like a returns option, and margins.
Dropshipping is quite a unique way of sourcing and selling products because you never actually come into contact with the physical products themselves. Instead, you market and sell them online, and the order is then passed straight through to the manufacturer, who ships the product directly.
Dropshipping sounds like an awesome deal; all the fun parts (marketing, branding…money-making), without any of the logistical burdens. But it’s an industry you should approach with real caution.
Five or so years ago dropshipping was a pretty open, nothing-to-lose market. But now, you’ll be up against tough competition, with low margins, potentially dodgy suppliers, and the need to pump significant money into paid ads before you can break even. This Wired article contains some cautionary tales.
So if you do give dropshipping a go, approach it with caution and moderation. Oberlo is one dropshipping platform that makes it easy to source dropshippable products online.
Larger brands and retailers often still prefer to work with wholesale distributors.
A wholesale distributor normally works with brands in a particular niche (e.g. outdoors gear). They have built relationships with buyers, so are in a unique position to get new products and brands in front of them.
Distributors are a popular option for larger brands who are looking to break into new territories. Having representatives ‘on the ground’ who know the local market is a huge help.
If you are large enough to work with a distributor, chances are you won’t have to look for one — they’ll come to you! You’ll often find them presenting alongside brands at trade shows, too.
The arrangement they have with brands and retailers varies; sometimes you buy a set amount of stock, or sometimes you can take it on with a returns guarantee, whereby you only pay for what you actually sell. Either way, the distributor takes a cut in the process — but it’s likely to be the brand that feels this, rather than the retailer.
6. White labelling
White labelling, also known as private labelling, is the process of applying your own branding to ‘raw’ products. Like adding your own label to a candle that’s already otherwise ready to sell.
If this idea appeals, check out the selection of white label products we have on CREOATE.
7. Making or manufacturing your own products
If you want to make, brand or manufacture your own products, where you go to source these materials will be different from when you’re just looking for ready-to-go stock to sell in your retail or ecommerce store.
Use manufacturers to make products from scratch
If you have an idea for a product, but it isn’t something you can make yourself (or you just want to make in a larger volume or at a cheaper price), you’ll need a manufacturer.
Finding a manufacturer you can work well with takes a bit of investigating. There’s the question of going with a domestic factory, or an overseas one, among others.
We could (and will!) be writing a whole guide on this complex but important topic. But in the meantime, we highly recommend checking out this Shopify guide.
Source raw materials to make the products from scratch yourself
Many CREOATE vendors hand make their own products. It’s part of what makes buying from a wholesale marketplace so special!
If you’re kinda crafty and fancy this idea, you’ll just need to source the raw materials and get to work. Alibaba and other wholesale marketplaces sometimes sell these, or there are normally some category-specific options you can find with a simple search. If you’re making on a smaller scale, give eBay a go.
Depending on what products you’re looking to make, there may be some more sustainable and creative options on hand, too. Take a leaf out of Salix Moon Apothecary’s book; its founder Louise grows many of the herbs used to make the brand’s botanical elixirs in her own garden. Or look to Sarah, who takes found objects and turns them into wearable treasures.
Your product catalogue is the heart and soul of your retail business. So take some time experimenting to get it right!
The joy of wholesale marketplaces like CREOATE is that you can order stock in relatively small amounts, according to your values (plastic-free, etc.), and return anything that doesn’t sell in 60 days. It takes all the risk out of sourcing new stock.
For larger or more established retailers, combining this with attending trade shows, or working with distributors, could help you find the perfect product mix at a larger scale.
Have we missed any product sourcing tips? Let us know in the comments below!