Finding good suppliers who actually want to sell you stuff

Finding good suppliers who actually want to sell you stuff

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Have you seen the Austin Powers movies? If so, you might recall when Dr Evil travels back in time to 1969 and demands a $100 billion ransom — an unimaginable amount of money for the time and one that US President Richard Nixon finds laughable.

Approaching potential new suppliers sometimes leaves you feeling exactly like the fictionalised President. You're often met with minimum order quantities or minimum spends so outlandish that all you can do is laugh. It beats crying.

It can be challenging, sometimes even uncomfortable, to stick your neck out and find out if someone thinks you’re worthy of entering into a business relationship with. But discovering who’s actually willing to work with you is a vital first step.

As I began my search for suppliers for my Juni store, I was curious to see whether having the Juni brand behind me would make a difference to how potential suppliers treated me. It didn’t. I got the same enormous MOQs and lack of wiggle room as ever. In a way, it was reassuring to know that I’d have to follow my usual process of hunting out suppliers who genuinely wanted my business.

The importance of partners with shared values

‘Shared values’ sound like they belong on a flip chart in a corporate training room. But they’re something I keep coming back to in the early stages of this journey. My experience so far has taught me that sourcing good partners really means sourcing partners who share your values. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that having shared values makes it far easier for them to be a good partner to you.

Think of it in terms of going out for a meal with a friend who values a high standard of cooking, another who thinks speedy service time is the most important thing, and a third who wants a lively atmosphere. You might be able to reach some sort of awkward compromise, but everything would run much more smoothly if you agreed on what you wanted from the meal.

It’s the same thing here. Yes, you might be able to convince a manufacturer to adopt sustainable practices if you tell them it’s a deal-breaker. But how much easier would it be to work with a supplier that values sustainability and already has these practices in place?

Partners in sustainability

I’ve given sustainable practices as an example because that’s an area in which I have direct experience. Sustainability is important for both environmental and branding reasons. The Juni brand team doesn’t want the Juni logo to look like trash. I don’t want my clothing products to end up in landfill 300 years from now with the Juni logo intact.

When I trialled products from Printful, I realised many of them were 50% polyester and that the fibres would probably outlast our children’s children’s children. We don’t want the Juni logo on that. It’s a bleak picture and one I refuse to accept.

That realisation encouraged me to focus on finding a partner who valued sustainability as much as I do. My search took me across the pond to Canadian manufacturer Kotn. But shared values will only get you so far, and we were too far apart to keep my carbon footprint within my target levels.

I wanted to source products built on a foundation of values that I believed in and trusted. But my kindred spirit suppliers would have to be closer to home. The moment I set eyes on Full Circle Clothing's mission statement, I knew I’d found a partner I wanted to work with. And when I saw their address was in the Netherlands, I really started to get excited.

Max and Constantin are genuine thought leaders in sustainability. I mean genuine in every sense, including freely admitting that no new clothing can ever be truly sustainable. What they have done is bring a circular approach of ‘take, make, use, recycle’ to the traditionally linear and wasteful textile industry.

My commitment to sustainability and vision for the Juni store meant they were genuinely excited about working with me, too.

Hats off to good planning

Since word got out about what I’m up to, I’ve become the go-to swag guy – moonlighting as a supplier to Juni to test out some of my products. This extended to being asked to supply hats to a Juni team event in Istanbul.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been the sort of supplier I aspire to work with…

With my own warehouse not yet up and running, my manufacturer (not Full Circle Clothing, I should add) was handling all of the logistics. They didn’t read my order correctly and didn’t notice that the hats needed to be sent to Turkey. When they did realise, they didn’t consider that it was Eid at the time and delivery would take longer than usual.

The manufacturer didn’t get the hats to Istanbul in time for the event. They did successfully get them to Turkey, but only after we’d packed up and gone home. It was a big disappointment and a major letdown. But I do have a few things to be thankful for:

  1. It happened with an in-house event and not paying customers
  2. The manufacturer is storing the hats free of charge until I can get them to my UK warehouse
  3. It was a valuable lesson to learn at this stage in the business

Lessons from a hat fiasco

What I learnt was to pay closer attention to how much control I’m handing over to my suppliers. I’m a firm believer in being hyper-focused on finding the right people to handle a particular problem, then trusting them to deliver on their side. But I was working with this manufacturer for their product, not their logistical know-how. I’d inadvertently given them responsibility for my logistics. If my own warehouse was ready and I was controlling the supply of the products, the whole situation would’ve been avoided.

Running an ecommerce business requires you to work with partners. Each of those partners is a link in your supply chain. And, as the old saying goes, you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

This emphasises the importance of finding good partners, and also carefully considering which aspects of your operations you’re prepared to entrust to them.

How to find good suppliers of your own

Measure twice, cut once. It’s a well-worn phrase in the clothing industry of which I’m now a small part. But I think it applies to finding your suppliers, too. Make sure you’ve really got the measure of a potential partner before committing to working with them.

My tips are:

  • Think about your brand values and how your choice of supplier could support or enhance them
  • Build detailed knowledge of what you need before you start contacting people
  • Join relevant LinkedIn groups, open up your DMs, and tell people what you’re looking for
  • Choose companies that are dependable and easily contactable
  • Work with trusted suppliers or end up paying twice
  • Trust people who have proven experience over many years and are willing to share their knowledge with you
  • Award extra brownie points to those who are also prepared to admit they don’t know it all and listen to your insights
  • Think about how much power any one supplier wields over your operations
  • Remember, products can usually be sourced elsewhere, so don’t put all your eggs in one basket

Finding good suppliers who actually want to sell you stuff
Stephen Bourke
Ecommerce Store Manager

Stephen has over 4 years of experience running businesses and assisting entrepreneurs with Shopify stores. When he's not setting up shop, Stephen enjoys a good board game with his husband and friends. He's known for trying adventurous vegan cuisines.

Download our free whitepaper and gain important ecommerce and marketing insights, directly from Juni.

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Juni will not share your information with any third parties except for our verified partner network. Submit your email for even more valuable content, delivered straight to your inbox.

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