You’ve been thinking about it, and so has every other small business owner. After seeing the Made in China label on almost everything you buy, wouldn’t it just make more sense to go directly to the source and buy your merchandise in China to maximize profit margins? The answer is yes, but you need to do it so that it is profitable.
How to Import?
Importing goods from China is not in fact difficult at all. The steps on how to import from China typically involve finding items that you would like to import, negotiating with the manufacturer or distributor, finding a freight forwarder to transport your items to the port, and then finding a customs broker to clear the items once they arrive at the destination port. This is a standard process, and you can find good freight forwarders and customs brokers to help you through the process. In fact, some companies have entities both in the major U.S. cities and in China, so turnkey services are available to guide you through the entire process.
The actual import process is not difficult. However, sourcing merchandise is where you may run into some trouble. First of all, most Chinese manufacturers and distributors do not deal in small volumes. So if you are considering spending a few hundred dollars to test the waters, you are better off buying the items from a local wholesaler at a much higher price. Depending on the size, weight, and cost of producing the merchandise, a test run amount can be around $5000.00. If you are not willing to make that kind of an investment, then you are not ready to import merchandise directly from China. Instead, focus on growing your sales domestically before taking the plunge.
Once you are ready to put up the capital requirements, you can research online at web sites such as Trade Key and Alibaba to find the type of products you would like to import. Make sure you call and negotiate with the companies ahead of time to get a feel for the pricing. Typically, if more than half of the companies you speak to are saying the lowest price is a certain amount, it will be within range. Throughout this process, you should pick a region in China where you would like to get your merchandise from (for instance, Guangdong Province or Zhejiang Province). This would limit the transportation expenses when you visit these companies in China or send your agent to represent you at their offices.
Meeting Your Manufacturers
Before you place the order, you will definitely need to meet with the manufacturers or distributors that you are interested in doing business with. I cannot emphasize enough how important this step is. If you are willing to pay someone $5000.00, wouldn’t it make sense to meet them in person first? This means you will have to fly out to China. This is why I suggested selecting a particular region to work in so that you can come up with a list of at least 10 manufacturers you can visit all at once within a short distance. This will save you money and time on additional train or plane tickets. It would also be a good idea to hire a Chinese interpreter and guide for the duration of your trip if you are not fluent in Mandarin.
Once you actually meet your manufacturers, you should be able to separate the legitimate companies from the illegitimate ones. Key things to look for include how large is the office, how big is the warehouse or factory, how good are the samples shown to you, and if possible, ask for a list of past clients or testimonials from others who have worked with the manufacturer. Remember that anyone can be rated highly on Trade Key or Alibaba, so it is necessary to gauge each manufacturer in person. This is where it is important to have a list of at least 10 prospects so that you can cross off the list illegitimate manufacturers and focus on the ones that can provide the product you need for your business.
After you have agreed to certain terms and conditions, you might need to leave a deposit with the manufacture in order for them to begin production on your items or to begin preparing your items for shipment.
Everything seems great so far and you have deposited your money. But how do you know you are getting exactly what you are paying for? How do you know if the merchandise going onto the container at the port meets your specific requirements? This is where quality control comes in.
The best approach to quality control is for you to fly out to China to inspect all the goods before the items get loaded into the container. If time does not permit you to fly, you will need to hire a quality control agent who can do the inspection for you, then provide you with a detailed report. This is an absolutely crucial step in the import process to get what you paid for.