Hot Topics:

Before You Contact Your First Supplier

5 things you must do to prepare your business for top results

You’ve found a product you’d like to sell. You have the supplier’s contact information. You’re ready to make the call. But wait! Are you really ready? Chances are if you’re new to working with wholesale suppliers, you’re not fully prepared.

And being prepared before you contact that new supplier can make all the difference between beginning a successful supplier relationship and making a call that hits a dead end. First impressions count with suppliers, and you’ll want to make sure you put your best foot forward when setting up supplier relationships.

Take these five steps now and you can be confident that you’ll maximize the results from each and every supplier call.

1. Get your business paperwork in order

Wholesale suppliers require you to have certain things in place before they can set up an account with you, fax over a price list or even send out a product catalog. At the top of the list is being a registered business owner and having your business license/tax ID number. A true wholesaler can only sell products to you at wholesale cost if you are a legal business entity.

Getting your business set up as a legal business is not a difficult process, but because state rules can vary, you’ll want to contact your state’s Department of Licensing and find out the requirements for becoming a legal business in your state of residence. Most states have a Web site that will give you the information you need to get started.

Before you can purchase inventory, your supplier will also likely ask you to provide a resale certificate. A resale certificate is a standard business form that you’ll fill out and give to your supplier. Its purpose is to confirm that you are a legal business and that the goods you are purchasing are for resale. This is a standard form issued by your state’s Department of Revenue.

Most states will supply a resale certificate form, but as with obtaining a business license, procedures vary from state to state. For more information on obtaining a resale certificate form in your state, contact your state’s Department of Revenue.

Contacting a supplier before you have these things in place will only waste your time and the supplier’s. So don’t make your first supplier call until your business is legal.

2. Convey a professional business presence

Investing in a business e-mail address helps suggest to suppliers that your business is here to stay

When contacting wholesale suppliers, you are representing a very important company—yours. Presenting a professional business image is as important as having your legal business paperwork, although it is frequently overlooked.

One of the most important things to do before contacting a supplier is to set up a business e-mail address using the domain name that you have purchased for your company. For example:

Don’t use your personal Yahoo, Hotmail or Gmail accounts to contact suppliers. While these addresses are great for personal communications, they are not appropriate for representing your company. (When’s the last time you received an e-mail from Barnes & Noble with a Yahoo e-mail address?)

Your suppliers want to know that you are a serious, stable business entity. Investing in a business e-mail address helps suggest to suppliers that your business is here to stay.

You’ll also want to brand your business with a logo. Many new businesses skip this step. A professionally designed logo should appear on your business cards, your letterhead, even the fax cover sheet you use to fax information to your supplier.

The way you package your business and represent it contributes significantly to your success in working with a new supplier.

3. Research the company

Learning as much as you can about a supplier before you make your first call is the key to making a successful supplier connection. Finding out as much as possible about your potential supplier can give you a huge advantage over someone who calls “cold” with no knowledge.

Rather than asking the supplier to explain their business and product line, find out as much as you can ahead of time. This allows you to have an informed conversation with the supplier rep and ask the right questions. And asking the right questions is important.

If your supplier has a Web site, spend time on the site reading as much as you can about them. Look over their “About Us” page, learn about the company’s history and review their policy pages. Get a good feel for who they are, what types of products they deal in and what kinds of retailers they work with.

If your supplier doesn’t have a Web site, you can research the Web to find out what other companies carry their brands. This will give you some idea of the type of company you are dealing with.

This knowledge will make you sound like a seasoned professional even if you are new to selling online.

4. Create supplier note cards

It’s human nature to forget things when we’re nervous and making supplier phone calls is no exception

No matter how well prepared you think you are, you never know how your first supplier call will go until you’re on the phone having the conversation.

It’s human nature to forget things when we’re nervous and making supplier phone calls is no exception. A great way to stay on track is to create supplier note cards.

Purchase 3- by 5-inch note cards and make a note of all your pertinent business information, supplier specifics and the points you want to cover during your first call.

Writing down your tax ID number and even your fax number may seem like a simple thing to do, but it will go a long way when it comes to providing a smooth delivery over the phone.

Over the years I’ve talked with numerous new business owners who, when faced with a supplier call and jangled nerves, have forgotten information as basic as their own business name. Don’t leave your supplier calls up to chance. Jotting down your research points will allow you to refer to those notes while talking with your new supplier.

Make a list of the questions you want to ask your new supplier. Then write down their answers next to the question.

By the time you complete the call, you’ll have everything you need in one place to determine how you want to proceed with this new supplier connection.

5. Do a dry run

You’ve found a great supplier, they have the products you want to stock in your store and you’re ready to make the call—except for one thing: You’re feeling a bit nervous about calling this supplier.

One of the best ways to counteract those pre-call jitters is to do what I call a “supplier dry run.” Before making that all-important supplier call, get some practice in by calling a few wholesale suppliers you are less invested in doing business with. This enables you to practice talking with suppliers and familiarize yourself with the industry terminology and the type of questions a supplier might ask.

Doing a supplier dry run eases the pressure of calling your most important supplier first. And it can yield some surprising results. Many of our clients who have used this method have established very profitable supplier relationships with companies they originally thought would not be a match for them.

Contacting wholesale suppliers is like everything else you undertake in business. The more experience you have, the better you’ll be become at what you do. Following these five steps for supplier preparedness will help shortcut your learning curve, position you well to speak with your first suppliers and give you the confidence you need to know that you’re putting your best foot forward.

Read about how to find good wholesale suppliers.

About the author

Lisa Suttora
Lisa Suttora is an internationally known e-commerce expert, internet marketing strategist and veteran trend spotter. As founder and CEO of, Suttora has helped thousands of enterprising entrepreneurs build successful, niche-based online businesses. Since 2004, has provided premier education and a global community for online retailers. To get the latest on hot product niches and trends, subscribe to Suttora's free trend sheet Hot Trend Alerts. Suttora also has a 15-day e-course to help sellers make money on today's eBay. Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

Newsletter Signup