All the books and online courses will exude that importing and private labeling is the most fantastic business ever, without any downsides. It is indeed a wonderful business for entrepreneurs to run but there are dirty secrets to it, like any business.
In this post, I'll list the five dirty secrets of importing and private labeling rarely talked about. Check back in a couple of weeks, and I'll have a follow up post on this about the five fantastic secret gems of importing from China.
Dealing with Products and Physical Inventory Sucks (Sometimes)
When importing from China you're dealing with real tangible products. Products get lost and damaged and they take up a lot of room. Even if you own a 5000 sqft warehouse, I assure you that eventually your products will start to creep into your home (if you could only see the closets in my home!). Inventory can be heavy, and I can't tell you how many times in my importing career I've spent an entire day assembling pallets and moving boxes- and we supposedly have all of our logistics outsourced.
Importing also almost always involves paying your supplier before receiving your products. I assure you, your first time importing something from China you will swear bullets from the time you click ‘submit' on your payment to your Supplier, to the time you receive your inventory. I do dozens of shipments a year and I still swear bullets on many of the larger shipments.
There's other inventory related fears you'll have, including:
- OMG, the Tianjing port just blew up. Was my container there?
- Are these BMX bicylces I just ordered even going to work?
There's often times I envy the guys making millions of dollars from information based content and services who never have to touch a real tangible product.
Dealing with the Chinese Sucks (Sometimes)
Why did you just switch the fabric of our products after two years to some lower quality, inferior fabric?! Why did you send me 100 widgets without a single box? You said my products would be complete by June 30- it is August 30 and you're just shipping my products now?!
The Chinese conduct business differently than us. For risk of sounding culturally insensitive, I shouldn't say it's worse than us, but it is different. The most annoying for Westerners is their aversion to saying ‘No' to anything (even when they mean ‘No') but there are other things too.
There are amazing things about Chinese culture- otherwise I wouldn't have married a Chinese girl. And The Chinese way of doing business is slowly starting to mirror that of us in the West. But whenever you start to deal with a culture as distinct as China's, cultural barriers and challenges will exist.
It's a Cash Hungry Business (Always)
Importing is a cash hungry business. If you sell out of your first order in a week, well guess what? You're going to need to make another order which takes more money. There are ways to finance your business, including ways like boot strapping and getting credit from your Suppliers, but ultimately there's always a need for cash. In fact, finding access to capital is one of the most important traits an importer can have. The good news is, there's ways to do this besides having access to a rich relative (although that helps too).
You Need to Wear Many Hats (Always)
Many moons ago, the responsibilities of an importer included scouring the far East for new products, shipping them to your country, and selling them to distributors and other middle men (this guy famously embodied the occupation). In today's post-internet, post-Alibaba world, this isn't enough. You need to be continuously sourcing new products, shipping them to your home country, programming a website, marketing your products directly to consumers, dealing with customer service issues, and more. Here are some of the hats you'll wear as an importer:
- Product buyer
- Logistics coordinator
- Website developer
- Customer Service Representative
- Outside Sales
- Inside Sales
- And more
I know entrepreneurs are notorious for having a lot of job responsibilities under their command (what entrepreneur hasn't proudly proclaimed that they're CEO and janitor?) but importers more than most professions have had their jobs flattened in recent years.
You Need to be Continuously Innovating and Finding New Products (Always)
Home runs in importing, like business, are often short lived. Once you find a product that starts selling extremely well, someone researching your Amazon listings is going to realize this and, import them, and start selling the same product for a dollar less than you. There are ways to build a brand rather than just being a product importer, but ultimately you need to always be finding ways to improve your products and the marketing of your products. You also need to always be hunting for new products to import. Unless you are developing a unique and patented product, it's rare you'll be able to sit back and rest of your previous success.
This post isn't meant to dissuade you from starting a business in importing. Every potential business you start will have dirty little secrets, and, in my opinion, the secrets of importing are less dirty than most. If you need a little motivation to start your business in importing, check back with the follow up post to this where I'll discuss some of the fantastic things about importing.
Have you experienced any nuances to importing that fall into the ‘dirty secrets' category? If so, please share them in the comments box below.