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Supply Magic: Episode 3 of The Complete Beginner’s Guide to eCommerce

New around here? Hello!

Welcome to the Beginner’s Guide to eCommerce, a series of articles where I share my personal story of launching an eCommerce business.

So far, I’ve taken you on a real journey: we’ve ideated, we’ve spoken about business models, and even chose business names.

Now, it’s time to round up some suppliers and start making my new online business – CrewCase a reality.

I’m going to walk you through:

  • The launch line of CrewCase
  • My checklist for finding top suppliers 
  • How to actually begin your product sourcing 

Introducing: CrewCase 😎

After deciding on my business model and name, it was time to get my hands dirty and start thinking about my product in practical detail.

I wanted to launch CrewCase with a handful of goodie boxes that would cover the basics.  

Based on my market research and target audience interviews, it became clear that most HR departments at IT companies got the employees together for a couple of reasons: 

  1. To celebrate milestones, e.g. the end of a quarter
  2. To celebrate holidays, e.g. Easter or Christmas 
  3. To hang out informally after work 

I was also told that it was common practice to provide newbies with branded remote working attire (think sweatpants, t-shirts, and hoodies). 

After some brainstorming, I came up with my brand new product line.

The TGIF Box 🥂

Includes 3 craft beers OR 2 gin and tonics, plus assorted snacks.

This box was all about celebrations and fun after-work beer or gin tasting activities. 

I wanted both the beer and the gin to be locally sourced, and be more unique than something people could pick up at any supermarket.

The Newbie Box 👶

Includes branded sweatpants and a hoodie, a mini potted plant.

With the Newbie box, I wanted to create a sense of belonging. 

The idea was to offer HR departments the chance of ordering boxes with branded remote working attire and some snacks for their new recruits.  

The oH oH oH! Box 🎅

Includes USB fairy lights (deck that desk!), a vegan soy wax candle, locally made fruit cake.

Since Christmas was rapidly approaching, I wanted to offer something seasonal too.

While the frosted pine candle is a classic that everyone would like, the USB fairy lights would bring that festive feeling to an employee’s desk and gingerbread is everyone’s thing, isn’t it?

The 5 golden rules of finding top suppliers 💎

Next, my mission was to source a handful of top manufacturers and producers, since I was not going to put up the cash to set up my own factory. 

There were better things I’d use $11 million on.

The only problem was that I was totally new to the world of suppliers.

What does one do when she has to make a decision about something, but has no strong foundation of the matter at hand?

She compares.

So, I came up with a list of particular qualities that I wanted my business partners to have. I was going to choose my suppliers based on those qualities.

No 1. Communication

It goes without saying, but I’d have a much easier time if I was able to communicate well with my suppliers. 

Not only would a common language help me negotiate a better deal, but it’d also help further down the line, e.g. when resolving potential customer complaints.

I understand that not everyone will be in the position to source all of their suppliers locally, but try and jump on the ‘hyperlocal’ trend – it can benefit you in more ways than one.

No 2. Price

Based on my research, I decided to really hold back when it came to price.

What I mean is this:

The question I was going to ask my potential suppliers wasn’t ‘how much does it cost?’, but instead – ‘what’s the price per unit in bulk orders?’

I was willing to pay a little more to source my products locally and not have to wait around for weeks for a shipment from across the globe. 

Plus, it’d make it easy to brand my business as climate-friendly. 

No 3. Specialty 

The third thing to look out for was the supplier’s specialization. 

While I wanted to get lucky and find a supplier who could provide me with everything I needed, it’s not really a realistic scenario.

I had high hopes in being able to source my clothing items from a single supplier, but there was no way they would also make craft gin.

Sure, dealing with many suppliers for many different products can be a pain, especially at the beginning of your business.

But since I really wanted my HR goodie boxes to stand out in a relatively saturated market, I knew I needed to source bespoke and truly unique items.

No 4. Customization options 

N.B. You might not need the customization options for your own online business, so feel free to skip this section.

This was a big one for me: I wanted to be able to add my clients’ branding on many of the CrewCase products. 

Teaming up with a supplier that allowed me to customize orders was very important. 

This way, I was able to bring more value to my customers, without having to run around town looking for yet another service provider to print some logos on a bunch of hoodies. 

No 5. Shipping 

Last but not least, shipping was another huge dealmaker (or breaker) when it came to choosing my suppliers.

Since I was planning on trying to source my goods as locally as possible, I needed speedy shipping and quick turnaround times.

Plus, sourcing locally meant that if push came to pull, I would be able to hop in the car and drive to my supplier to pick up my orders.

Time to product source ⌛

With five of the most important pointers about suppliers in my mind, I started the supplier hunt.

But how do you actually start product sourcing?

I can tell you how I did it: I started by Googling for clothing manufacturers in the Sheffield (UK) area. 

Google search for clothing manufacturers in Sheffield

The Stitch Factory Ltd caught my eye, boasting quite some impressive reviews and in-store pickup too.

On their website, I noticed that they did a bunch of different loungewear options and even some knitwear. 

Also, the sizing and color options were impressive, and the prices seemed agreeable.

Screenshot of The Stitch Factory's product page

After a thorough look, I decided to try and call them, just to get an idea of whether they worked with other companies with similar products and needs. 

The only thing I was worried about was customization since it wasn’t clear from the information that was presented on the website. 

After a lovely chat with the owner, it turned out that they were able to do some embroidery on their clothing, as they usually supplied their local schools with uniforms. 

I’d got a decent quote from them, although they would have to get back to me regarding my Christmas jumpers. 

To keep my options open, I decided to play it safe and repeated the process with a couple of other local clothing manufacturers. 

This way, I was able to:

  • Get an idea of the average market prices
  • Test the waters and see which manufacturer I was vibing with the most 
  • Compare the production times and available customization options   

Searching for the best booze 🍺

Next, I needed to hunt down the best local ale and gin that my money could buy.

So I turned back to Google and came across some serious contenders.

Local beer in Sheffield on Google

Turner’s Craft Beer Bottle Shop seemed like a total gold mine at first: it offered tastings, worked with some local pubs, and even had an online store.

And, most importantly, there was a rich selection of local IPAs, ales, and pretty much any type of beer you could think of.

While I enjoyed a good beer every now and then, I by no means was an expert in the field.

So I decided to give the good people at Turner’s Bottle & Tap a call to understand which types of beer were popular and trending, and what they would recommend I’d include in my TGIF box.

After almost an hour of merry chatting, I knew an awful lot more about craft beer and I was able to come close to closing a great business deal, too.

With approximately 50% off retail prices when I ordered in bigger batches, I had all the reasons to smile.

Plus, Turner’s Bottle & Tap also did a few local gins too that I was able to buy at a hefty discount. Score!

Turner's Bottle and Tap gin product page

Follow the breadcrumbs to find fruit cake 🍰

Last, I wanted to see where I could find a bakery that would do delicious cakes.

I had a few requirements:

  • The cake had to keep well – nobody likes their cake all dried up or mushy.
  • The bakery had to be local – ideally, I could go and do some sampling before buying.
  • The cake had to be packaged beautifully – this would save me time in the long run, and look awesome in any unboxing Instagram posts.

I was going to start all over again with my Google routine, but suddenly I remembered a Facebook post I’d seen not long ago.

A friend of mine, who used to live in the area, had reshared a post from a few years ago, raving about a local bakery and their fruit cake.

Nothing beats a trustworthy review in the world of business. So, I asked my friend to send me a link to this baker’s website.

And Tipple Tails looked perfect.

Tipple Tails fruit cake home page

It ticked all of my boxes: this fruit cake was known for staying fresh for a long time, the nearest stockist was a stone’s throw away from my house, and their branding had the right vibes to go with CrewCase.

I mean, how often can you get cake in a cute little tin?

I didn’t hesitate and gave the lady, Jane, a call. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get through – one must be busy with a huge fruit cake empire, after all.

So, I sent Tipple Tails an email introducing my business idea and asking for more details about their business partnerships.

After a day or two, Jane replied, and a few more emails later, we had an agreement for a bulk order.

It was definitely feeling like my business idea was becoming a reality, now that I had some real products to include in my goodie boxes.

Next time: Ready, set, brand 🎨

We’re getting closer and closer to our grand store opening, but before that, there’s still work to be done.

Next week, we’ll be looking at how to create a standout brand – from scratch.

Get your easels and pencils ready, we’ll need to come up with a logo, and settle on some fonts and colors too.

Written by

Author avatar

Matleena

Matleena is a seasoned eCommerce writer, with a particular interest in emerging digital marketing trends, dropshipping, and growth hacking. She’s addicted to coming up with new eCommerce business ideas and making them a reality; she deserves her nickname of ‘print on demand business mogul.' In her free time, she enjoys cups of good coffee, tends to her balcony garden, and studies Japanese.

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