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How to Locate Wholesale Suppliers

by Stephanie Chandler

When setting up a retail business, one of the most daunting tasks can be locating and establishing accounts with wholesale suppliers. But this process doesn’t have to put a kink in your business plans. Here’s how to get going.


In order to purchase products at wholesale prices and without paying sales tax, you will need to apply for a resale license (in addition to a standard business license). Holders of a resale license must collect and report sales tax monthly or quarterly, depending on local regulations. Contact your county business licensing division to apply for your license. Vendors may ask for a copy of the license or just your assigned license number in order to comply with government regulations, so be sure to keep this information handy.

Trade Shows

The best place to start looking for vendors is to attend trade shows in your industry. Whether you want to sell gifts, sporting goods, pet supplies, comic books, or airplane parts, there is probably a trade show that can accommodate your needs.

If you’re not already a member of a trade association in your industry, you should be. Each association almost always hosts its own trade show, or is at least affiliated with relevant shows. The association newsletter and website are also great sources for discovering vendors.

If you aren’t aware of trade associations for your industry, a quick Google search should help you locate yours. For example, you can search for “sporting goods association” and come up with a number of resources. Within each website, there should be a list of additional resources. You can also ask other business owners in your field to suggest groups to join or check out to locate business owners and resources in your field.

The Trade Show News Network ( provides a database of shows all over the world. Another resource is, which lists business expos by state. Finally, be sure to check the schedules of any large convention centers in your area.

The Grass Roots Approach

Whether or not you are able to locate a trade show, you are probably going to end up ordering supplies from a lot of vendors so you want to begin researching your options as soon as possible. Start by reading labels on supplies you want to carry and get in touch with vendors directly. Go out and find the products you want to carry by visiting stores near you. Some vendors even provide their website information on the product label. If the contact information isn’t listed, a quick Google search should help you locate the website or contact information.

I faced this same challenge when I opened my bookstore. Since I also carry gifts and greeting cards, whenever I am out shopping and run into something I like for the store, I buy one and get in touch with the vendor. Just last month I contacted a vendor for a product I picked up while in a gift shop in San Francisco.

Purchasing Terms

Once you locate a product you like, get in touch with the vendor and ask about wholesale terms. Most companies will allow you to order directly from them though you can also ask if they use a distributor.

Many suppliers are going to require that you prepay for awhile until you establish credit with them. Some smaller vendors may be willing to negotiate and give you 30-day payment terms so be sure to ask what terms are available. Also inquire about any added discounts for pre-paying. Many will give you at least two extra percentage points off for paying up front.

Return policies are another consideration. If the products don't sell in six months, can you return them or exchange them for different merchandise? Also ask about minimum order amounts. I order books from a distributor that costs slightly more only because they don't have a minimum order amount. This way I don't have to spend $500 at a time and can place a quick order for $50 if I need to.

Know Who You Are Dealing With

The Better Business Bureau website ( is where you can find out about a vendor’s reputation and whether any complaints have been filed against the company. Unfortunately this is not a fool-proof research strategy and if you are concerned about a potential vendor, you should take some additional steps.

If you are making a large investment with a vendor, it would be wise to visit their location in person. Since this isn’t a viable option for many business owners, the next best option is to call references. You have the right to ask for references when considering a new vendor. Be sure to follow through and ask each reference how long they have been dealing with the supplier and if they have experienced any problems.

I would be very wary about ordering supplies overseas without first doing some research. There are plenty of good ones out there, but you want to be especially cautious since it will be more difficult to recover any losses that you incur outside of the country.

It takes some time and work to build up your vendor list so be patient. Try to get as much information as you can from websites. Once you place orders with a few vendors, you will end up on numerous mailing lists and soon you will receive all kinds of catalogs. Be sure you start the research process early on in your business planning so you have enough time to locate the products you need and build your budget accordingly.

Stephanie Chandler may be contacted at

Stephanie Chandler is the author of several books including "LEAP! 101 Ways to Grow Your Business" and “From Entrepreneur to Infopreneur.” She is also CEO of, a custom publisher specializing in non-fiction books, and, a directory of resources for entrepreneurs.


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