Starting an Import Business—Keeping Your Focus

Starting an Import Business—Keeping Your FocusAn import business isn’t all that different from any other business. There are a lot of details and problems you may have to face when you deal internationally, but you can have them in every business venture. There is a far greater percentage of small business owners in the import business than there are the “big guys.” Here are a few things you should focus on when beginning your import business.

Here’s an interesting fact: according the U.S. Department of Commerce, only about 4% of import companies are the “big guys” – the Targets and Wal-Marts, for example. The other 96% of importers are people like you and me – entrepreneurs and small business owners. So what did those 96% do to become successful importers? The following are strategies to help you start a successful import business.

  • Focus On Yourself
    You are the most important factor of success in an import business. You have to be willing to take on all of the aspects of starting a business. The responsibilities for the bookkeeping, inventory tracking, etc lie with you. You can hire people to help you, but when all is said and done, the company is your responsibility. You should be passionate about the products you are planning to import. Passion is a key element to success, and will help you with your new business.
  • Focus On Your Business
    You should always make sure you are choosing products that people want to buy, before you start importing. Do your homework and research to determine if there is a need in the marketplace for your type of product. You can look for competitors there are in the market place for a product by searching online. If everyone is selling your product online, you know it isn’t a product you should try to import. You want to make sure you have a unique product people are willing to buy before you invest time and money into any import business.
  • Focus On Customers
    Focusing on your customers and their specific interests will ensure that you are supplying your customer the right product, and that you’re supplying exactly the right kind of product that fits your customer’s needs. A few things you might want to ask are:

    1. Is you market more concerned with quality or price?
    2. Is there a certain feature that dominates their purchasing decision?
    3. Is color and size an issue?

    The more you focus in on what is important to your customer, the more successful you will be in the import business.

  • Focus On Finding the Right Source
    After your research is complete, you are ready to begin looking internationally for your product. There are a lot of ways to find someone who will sell you exactly what you’re looking for. You can directly contact the factory, find a regional sales representative, find a distributor, deal with a retailer, etc.

    It really depends on you and your marketplace. If your client relationships are time-consuming, you may want to use a middleman to help you find your products for you. You can also find the products, and let the import agent handle all the delivery details.

    There is a large variety of places that will help you find product suppliers for your import business. Thomas.net, Globalsources.com, trade shows, trade publications, import/export departments, economic development agencies, Chamber of Commerce, and many more.

    Finding a good supplier is the important thing. Do your due diligence on your international supplier, just like you would do if it was from a place in the US. Check to determine:

    1. What other clients do they have?
    2. Are they on-time and dependable?
    3. Do they have a good reputation in their industry?
    4. Are they transaction-focused, or are they willing to start a relationship with you?
  • Focus On Building a Relationship
    When you find a good source, build and maintain that relationship like you would any other. You should be professional, keep your commitments, and hold them to theirs. Once a good reputation with the company and a relationship is build, you may be able to get extended payment terms, suggest product improvements, and receive preferential treatment that may give you an edge in the marketplace.

    Starting an import business isn’t really much different from starting a domestic business. Make sure you and your business are both ready. Know your market, supplier, or agent, and take the plunge.


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