Consume that you’ve been thinking about starting a furniture business, you may have figured out some ideas of your own, like investing on some furniture stores, an online shop, or a furniture factory eventually. Notwithstanding, many entrepreneurs find themselves hitting a hard wall when they began to actually source the products. Amazing products are always not easy to find no matter you plan on manufacturing something of your own or finding suppliers to purchase from wholesale.
In the post, we’ll focus on the basics of sourcing a furniture supplier for your next project. We’ll offer you ideas for some ways or places to search, and examine how you should approach furniture suppliers and what to ask them when developing a product for your ecommerce business.Find the best furniture manufacturer for your own products.
What is a manufacturer?
A manufacturer is a business, usually a factory that produces finished products from raw materials. Some of them sell the products to wholesalers, consumers, distributors or retailers, while the other manufacturers would like to create some more products. Typically, manufacturers stick to only one type of product.
For example, you could work with a furniture manufacturer who creates dining tables and bar stools. You could also work with one manufacturer for corrugated cartons and another for plastic injection products. Distributors or retailers often work with multiple manufacturers at once to create an inventory for their distribution chanels or stores.
What is the difference between a manufacturer and a supplier?
These two nouns are pretty much synonyms. For the purpose of this post, when we refer to suppliers, we’re referring to someone who is able to provide you with products, techniques, services and inventory. This concept includes wholesalers, manufacturers and distributors etc.
There is plenty of useful resources online that you can find through search engines like Google. But before you begin, there are a few tips you need to know and check. First of all, in order to determine the terminology you might use in the research, you should figure out what type of supplier you’re looking for. Here is several supplier options, the most common ones are:
- A manufacturer who produces your own product only
- A dropshipper who supplies products and fulfills orders of already-existing brands and products
- A supplier (who may be a manufacturer as well), distributor or wholesaler who purchases already-existing brands and products
Comparison for local and overseas suppliers
If you plan to manufacture or do wholesale business, you will need to decide whether you should purchase from overseas or your own country when you are looking for furniture suppliers. Overseas can refer to any location globally.
It’s absolutely a great idea to keep two manufacturers in your supplier list: one local and one overseas. The local one can be used as a backup. Therefore, if there were anything wrong with the orders from overseas, you can go back to your local furniture supplier. Sure they may be more expensive, but it’s more and more expensive to lose your product stock or customer satisfaction.
It will often be cheaper to source the products overseas, especially in Asian countries, like China, Vietnam, and Taiwan because of lower costs. But there’s a lot more to consider than just the initial investment and the unit price. Since both local and overseas sourcing have the advantages and disadvantages:
- Better quality and labor standards
- Marketing appeal of being made in local
- Easier to verify the reputation of the suppliers
- Easier communication without language barrier
- Faster lead time
- High intellectual property right protection
- Better payment security and recourse
- Higher production cost
- Less product choice (if you cannot find so many variety kinds of products locally)
- Lower production cost
- One-stop services like some B2B sites have made it easy to navigate suppliers
- Many more of manufacturers to choose from
- (Usually) lower manufacturing and labor standards
- (Usually) Lower perceived quality from customers
- Less intellectual property protection consciousness
- Language and communication can be difficult to navigate
- Different time zone will cause time difference
- Difficult/costly to verify manufacturer and visit on-site
- Longer lead time
- Cultural differences in business practices
- Product importation and customs clearance
- Less payment security and recourse
When working with overseas furniture suppliers and manufacturers, it’s a good idea to hire a local production manager. These contractors are locals who live near your manufacturers and be responsible to handle negotiations, quality, orders, and managing your business partners.
They can also be the in-between for your business and forwarders. Consider them as the central hub for your overseas supply chain.
If there’s anything wrong, the manager shall work directly with the manufacturers to solve it. Besides, they speak the local language, which helps improve communication and make everything more smooth for your business.
How to find a furniture supplier or manufacturer?
Although finding a manufacturer for your product can be tricky, it’s necessary to bring your products to life. Follow the six steps below to find the best manufacturers and suppliers for your business.
- Collect information
- Discuss your designs
- Order samples before mass production
- Place your order
Finding a reliable furniture supplier or manufacturer is crucial to your success. They control your product’s cost, quality, packaging and shipping, almost everything. Here’s how you can find the right ones.
In the recent years, we’ve become accustomed to being able to easily search Google and find what we’re looking for in the first few search results. However, many furniture suppliers are not able to keep pace with the internet or Google’s algorithm changes. Their websites are usually too old, sparse on information, and not search-engine optimized.
In this case, how do you find furniture suppliers on Google? For possibly the first time ever, you’ll need to explore page two of Google search results and more. You’ll also need to use a variety of search keywords or terms. For example, words like “furniture supplier,” “furniture wholesaler,” and “furniture distributor” may be used interchangeably, so you should search for all of them.
It will be helpful to make yourself familiar with Google’s search shortcuts to improve the quality of your searches as well as your search results.
As the biggest B2B marketplace in the world, Alibaba connects you with manufacturers from China. It’s a common marketplace to find existing products, and you can also use Alibaba to connect with manufacturers to create custom products.
Just simply search for the products you’re looking for and browse through the various furniture suppliers and manufacturers and you could directly search for the furniture supplier name if you know them well.
It’s safe and easy to buy from Alibaba. The marketplace lets you examine manufacturers upfront to get the best products at a fair price. When you are researching manufacturers on Alibaba, make sure they have the following qualifications:
- Verified, which means a professional third-party company has visited their factory.
- Gold supplier, which means they pay for their Alibaba membership.
- Trade assurance, a free service that protects your orders from payment to delivery.
You can also search by applying filters. You can sort by certifications (such as BSCI, which improves social performance in global supply chains) to find a manufacturer that complies with your business values.
Another important thing to consider when sourcing from Alibaba: make sure your manufacturer is not a trading company. A trading company is a middleman and won’t be able to produce your products. Therefore, beside the product cost, you may need to pay extra for their service.
Online Supplier Directories
Another choice to research suppliers is free online supplier directories. These directories contain profiles for hundreds or thousands of suppliers, manufacturers and wholesalers. We’ve listed a few of the most common ones below for both domestic (USA) and overseas suppliers:
Recommendations and Referrals
In fact, some of the best leads can come from referrals. Don’t be afraid to ask connections in your professional networks if they have any recommendations or if they know someone. Find individuals who have been found success in an industry you’d like to pursue and see if they’re willing to share their contacts.
Social networks have made it much easier to get the word out, so make sure to use these channels. Try to join some Facebook groups and other online communities of E-commerce business owners and see if anyone there has an amazing review.
As soon as you start to reach target furniture suppliers, even if they are not the right fit for you, make sure to ask them if they can point you in the right direction. Being in the industry for years means they’ll likely have great contacts or souces and would be happy to refer you to an option that might be a better fit.
Once you’ve got a few manufacturers on your radar, you’ll want to get quotations. Prepare to get a minimum of three quotes to compare.
OK, now the biggest question you’ll likely have for a supplier is “How much will this cost?” But before you send an RFQ, you may need answers to the following questions:
- Can they accept custom orders? Evaluate if the furniture supplier or manufacturer can create the product you want. Do they have the skills, equipments, confidence?
- What about lead time? How long will it take for production and ship them? You absolutely don’t want to work with manufacturers who take half a year to deliver your products. If a product goes out of stock, you don’t want to leave customers waiting months to receive their orders.
- What are shipping costs? Shipping is a massive portion of your business expenses. Ask a manufacturer’s shipping costs to determine how it’ll affect your bottom line.
- What are the minimum order quantities (MOQs)? Try to avoid this question, because It would make you look like a rookie and deter manufacturers from working with you. However, you may want to know the minimum amount of items you have to order before they start production. This is highly negotiable.
- What is the unit price? While you’re negotiating MOQs, you will also want to negotiate cost per unit. Generally, the larger the order, the lower the unit price can be.
- Can they offer you exclusivity? If there’s tooling involved (i.e., you pay for a tool to manufacture your product), make sure they would not allow anyone else to use it. You can also ask for territorial, market, or complete exclusivity.
- What’s the defect policy? Make it clear that who will eat the cost for incorrect or defective items. Who pays for the shipping, duties or even compensations? It’s better to put all these terms in the sales contract.
- Is the supplier sustainable and ethical? Find out about the factory conditions, and see how they impact the environment and the workers.
If you’re looking for a furniture supplier for the first time, you’re going to quickly learn about minimum order quantities (MOQs). It’s not uncommon for a manufacturer to require a commitment to purchase hundreds or even thousands of units for your first order, depending on the product and manufacturer.
MOQs will be a serious problem when you don’t have rich funds or you want to start small and test the market before making larger orders. The good thing is that MOQs are almost always negotiable.
Try to understand why the supplier asks for MOQs before negotiating. Is it because there’s a lot of orders upfront? Or maybe it’s because they prefer to work with larger buyers. Find out the reasons behind, and it will help you better understand their position and allow you to negotiate and propose the best counter offer.
Discussing payment terms
Many furniture suppliers will require new customers to pay for the full order upfront. This is important to know, since inventory is a major cost for ecommerce businesses. You may want to also ask if they provide a better payment terms on future orders.
Suppliers are also human beings, they always get bombarded with email quote requests from eccentric buyers who are just kidding, so it’s not uncommon for many suppliers not to reply to every request. A lack of supplier responsiveness is a common complaint from new ecommerce businesses.
So how do you ensure your request will not be ignored? Here are a few things you should avoid when you contact with suppliers for the first time:
- Long emails: The first email to a manufacturer should be clear and concise. Do not say too much about your story and background. It should purely assess potential fit at a high level. Focus on what they care about the most, like the details of what you’re trying to source.
- Asking for too much: It’s a hard work for the suppliers to handle RFQs. It’s important to ask for quotes for multiple quantities, but avoid asking for too much or too many quotes. Stick to what you absolutely need to know to assess fit between you and the supplier.
- Asking for too little: If you ask for a quote based on the supplier’s MOQs, you may face meeting with silence. If you’re not sure whether your request is too small, consider giving them a quick call or send a one-question email prior to ask what their minimum order is.
A reliable furniture supplier will be open to negotiating payment terms. They won’t ask for 100% down payment before shipping, and if they do, that’s an obvious alert. Ask for 30% deposit, 70% against B/L copy. This holds both parties responsible for the deal and doesn’t leave too much risk on either side.
Communication between you and the furniture suppliers
In case that you don’t hire a production manager when starting your online business. You’ll have to communicate with suppliers on your own. There are four main ways to do this:
- Skype calls
Find furniture suppliers that are responsive and eager to work with you. If someone is giving the cold shoulder with your emails and samples, do you want to trust them with your business? Probably not.
Discuss your designs
When you talk with a potential furniture supplier, ask if they can create your own design. Some manufacturers have a product development process with prototyping and 3D mockup—but it is not cheap indeed. As an alternative, bring out your ideas with them through:
- Layout or sketch
- Reference image
- Indstrustial designers
- Product designers
- CAD experts
Another option is finding a local designer whom you can work with to develop prototypes and custom toolings. It’ll be more affordable than going through a manufacturer.
Before placing a bulk order, ask for samples to test before mass production. Once the sample is approved, date and sign the sample. Keep one or two at hand and ask the suppliers to do the same as well. These are called sign-off samples and are used to assure quality and get consistent products.
Say a manufacturer sends you an order. You open the package and find the color is completely wrong. You’ll likely chat with them to fix the mistake. If they have any doubts about the order, you can refer to the sign-off sample. This shows that the products you received are not what was previously agreed upon.
After you get a sample but before you place the order, it’s still possible to negotiate terms such as payment or MOQ. When negotiating, put yourself in the manufacturer’s shoes. The goal is not to try to lower the price, it’s to work together so both parties benefit and are happy. This is the only way to build a long-term, healthy business relationship.
Place bulk order
Last step, place your order. If possible, do a 100% quality control check. Check every single product you received to make sure it meets your standards. And if you’re happy with everything, send your order and get the production process started!