Continuing his ‘Doing Business in China’ series, Michael Fox shares how Shoes of Prey went about finding suppliers for the businesses custom-made creations!
We’re often asked by people moving into the online retail space, ‘How did you find the suppliers you work with in China?’
The first place we started was the web. Sites like Alibaba.com list suppliers for all sorts of different products, including women’s shoes. The trouble for us was that all of these suppliers wanted minimum orders measured in the hundreds or thousands, or shoes per style per colour whereas we wanted to order one pair per style, per colour.
Our next stop was trade fairs. There are numerous trade fairs in China, some specialise in a particular product category, others like the Canton Fair cover nearly everything.
The Canton Fair is one of the most amazing events I’ve ever been to. It’s held in an enormous exhibition centre in Guangzhou that must be at least one square kilometre in size. To see all the exhibitors would take at least three or four days walking at a relatively brisk pace. And because there are so many product categories and so many exhibitors the event is held in three parts because the exhibition centre can only hold a third of the suppliers in show at a time. You can source just about anything at this fair, although the skew is towards low to mid-quality products rather than the high-end.
Unfortunately trade fairs didn’t reveal shoe makers willing to make shoes one at a time for us, however we did meet quite a few people in the industry who were able to point us in the right direction. In the end we found some suppliers who were already doing small runs of high quality custom shoes and we went to speak with them. We were fortunate that we approached them during the global financial crisis so orders from their regular customers were down. While the bulk of their business was in wholesaling larger quantities of shoes, they had the capability to do custom shoes and were willing to experiment and work with a new customer.
We followed a similar process to find a second back up supplier in case we had any issues with our main supplier. Three months in we were having a few problems with getting consistent delivery times from our original supplier so we switched to our back up supplier and we’ve not looked back, they’ve been amazing to work with.
I suspect it’s possible to find a good supplier online on sites like Alibaba.com, however in our experience there’s nothing like spending time on the ground meeting people in the industry and getting to know your suppliers.