Dealing with your international supplier is not quite the same as dealing with local suppliers. There are a number of unique issues you may face, least of which is cultural and language barriers. At first glance this may seem a mundane topic but we encourage you to read to the end as there may be a few things to learn, especially for the beginner.
Be respectful. Apparent as this may seem, we have first hand experience. Just because you are not in the same country does not give you the right to treat anyone disrespectfully. What may seem acceptable to you may not be elsewhere.
Find a single point of contact. That is to say a direct contact person, not the sales desk. This will go a long way should you need to negotiate and or make agreements going forward. Do not be afraid of the telephone. You are gearing up to make a significant decision, not to mention investment, a few international phone calls (no matter the cost) are not going to destroy your budget.
Always be very clear as to what you are looking for. “Cheap linen” is not the same as “1000 pcs king size fitted sheets, white, 100% cotton.” This will help all involved reach the end goal sooner; an eligible and relevant quotation.
Should a certain standard apply, let them know this upfront. There is no point in wasting your and your potential suppliers time, if you are aware of a requirement which they are not. This could be any number of things but we refer specifically to goods where said standards are requirements for importation. This goes back to the previous point, be clear upfront.
Use as simple language as possible. You are not trying to win a Pulitzer Prize; you are trying to communicate your requirements. Wherever possible communicate in English but remember, in many cases your suppliers first langue is not English. Even if it were not all words and terms translate the same worldwide.
Ask all of your questions at once. Often you will face time zone differences and one line emails/ questions will waste considerable amounts of time. While you want to be clear and concise, a 100 long email thread is not the way to do it. If you are concerned that some of your communication may be overlooked, use bullet points or better yet numbering.
Indicate your order quantities upfront. Do not exaggerate this, it impresses no one and in most cases in fact has exactly the opposite effect you are looking for. Most international businesses/ traders have been around for some time, they have seen and heard it all.
Most suppliers/ manufactures will have minimum order quantities. If minimum order quantities are too high, try and negotiate first. You have a very good chance of them agreeing to alternative quantities. Alternatively, ask if they can refer you to a wholesaler of their products. Minimum order quantities are usually also referred to as MOQ.
Always state which country you are contacting them from. Some trade routes are governed by restrictions and or trade agreements.
Always ask for two separate prices [EXW and FOB] – this is important as it will affect your import costs.
Always ask for the packaging sizes and dimensions. Some suppliers will give this to you upfront, if they don’t, you need to ask for this – without this it is impossible to calculate any freight and landside charges and accordingly you cannot calculate your landed costs.
As a rule, do not ask for delivery, this is invariably quoted incorrectly and will cost you more in the long run [see: free shipping].
Only once you have all of the above in hand should you contact the next supplier in the chain, you local industry expert. They then will calculate freight costs as well as clearance costs, all of which will leave you with your landed costs.
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