Wholesale trade is worth nearly a half-trillion dollars annually in the United States alone, and it’s grown by more than 11% in the past five years.
Those are hard numbers for sellers to ignore—which is why more sellers, especially dropshippers, are scrambling for a piece of the ecommerce pie.
But you can’t sell a product you don’t have. The biggest challenge in sourcing products is finding a supplier you can trust. And with scores of options all across the world, finding the right wholesale supplier for your business can feel overwhelming.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. In this guide to finding the right wholesale supplier, we’ll dive deep into the details to help you find the perfect partner:
- What a wholesale supplier is and why you need one
- How to find legitimate wholesale suppliers
- Non-conventional ways to find wholesale suppliers
- How to make sure they’re right for you
What is a wholesale supplier?
A wholesale supplier is a company that buys goods directly from the manufacturer and sells them to retailers for a profit. The wholesale model soared in popularity with the onset of mass production and marketing techniques, beginning in the 19th century.
Without wholesalers, manufacturers would have to market and promote their goods to retailers themselves—a major inconvenience. Wholesale suppliers are essentially middlemen in the supply chain. They buy from manufacturers in such large quantities that they get a significant discount, which they can then pass on to retailers. They normally have a product license, and as such, their products are not available to regular customers—or at least not at the same price points they offer to their retailer partners.
Retailers then repackage the wholesale products for individual sale at a profit. Price is always negotiable, but dropshippers and other retailers typically pay wholesalers 60% to 70% of what they charge consumers.
What problems does a wholesale supplier solve?
For businesses that wholesale products, the goal is to select and curate the best products for customers while handling all the marketing and customer service.
But those products have to come from somewhere. Otherwise, you’d have to develop your own products and supply chain. That’s where wholesale suppliers come in. There are many advantages to working with wholesalers:
- You can buy as much stock as you need without worrying about expensive storage rental.
- If something sells out suddenly you have an existing relationship with a supplier and can quickly restock.
- You get discounted products to sell at a solid margin.
- You essentially bypass the entire product development process—saving money and time.
Dropshipping businesses and wholesale suppliers
We often see the wholesale approach used by dropshipping businesses.
Dropshipping is a fulfillment method where a store doesn’t keep the products it sells in stock. Instead, the store purchases products from a third-party supplier and has it shipped directly to the customer. As a result, the seller never handles the products directly.
Think of it as wholesale purchasing meets third-party fulfillment (as opposed to regular retailers who buy wholesale—or develop and manufacture their own products—and handle fulfillment on their own).
Learn more: The Best Dropshipping Products to Sell in 2021 (And Ideas to Market Them)
How do I find legitimate wholesale suppliers?
There are a lot of options out there, so here are a few things to bear in mind:
- Quality. Some sites do feature more than their fair share of knockoffs and low-quality products, so do your research before you’re stuck with thousands of low-quality items.
- Price. Take detailed notes on prices and remember: everything is negotiable. The more you buy, the larger the discount should be. If you can get a 10% discount, then you’re in good company.
- Complaints. If something goes wrong, who’s going to fix it? Customer service is a key part of dropshipping, so you’ll only want to work with wholesalers who have a good reputation.
Another major concern for merchants is finding wholesalers who can handle a quick turnaround. Meeting this window is crucial, as research shows that 71% of consumers expect products to arrive within three to five days.
"Selling DTC is different to fulfilling wholesale orders. Brands need to send bulk products safely and on time, which requires different packaging. To make sure you’re working with a reliable partner, filter for brands that have been doing wholesale for a while.
See if they have their own wholesale portal and look for how many years they have been in business. This helps ensure you’re working with a veteran and not a newbie who may be getting used to shipping in bulk versus single SKUs."
—Ali Kriegsman, COO of Bulletin
So how do you find legitimate, quality wholesale suppliers? The following are all wholesale supplier marketplaces—we’ll briefly cover other approaches later on. Every business has different priorities, so we broke down some of the more popular options into three categories.
- Best wholesale suppliers for product variety and price
- Best wholesale suppliers for merchants based in North America or Europe
- Best wholesale suppliers for experienced dropshippers
1. Best wholesale suppliers for product variety and price
If your business curates a wide variety of products or is competing on price, consider working with some of the following wholesalers.
Alibaba and Aliexpress
The Ali family of websites is China’s most dominant online marketplace. Research shows it has a 66% share of the domestic (Chinese) ecommerce market. Alibaba is aimed at a B2B audience buying wholesale products, while AliExpress is a B2C experience. Think of it as the Chinese version of Amazon.
If you’re looking to conduct a limited trial run, AliExpress might be a wise choice before going all-in on wholesale with Alibaba.
The Ali family of websites is ideal for:
- Medium- to low-quality goods sourced from China
- Wide variety of products and price points
- Private label/white labeled items
One of the best things about working with suppliers based in China is ePacket delivery, which makes shipping much faster and more affordable than it used to be. This is because, in 2011, the US Postal Service made ePacket delivery eligible for First Class service and delivery confirmation. And with supply chain issues related to COVID-19 causing chaos in the shipping world, fast delivery has become more of a priority than ever.
Learn more:What is ePacket? Everything You Need to Know About Shipping, Delivery, and Tracking from China
DHgate is another wholesale supplier based in China. DHgate has lower prices on a lot of products, but is known for carrying a lot of replica goods. If that’s not an issue for your business, it’s worth digging through the deals to see what you can unearth.
This option is best for:
- Having a wide selection of products with options to suit any merchant and niche
- Integrated rating system to help vet the right supplier for you
In general, we suggest you conduct detailed product research on many platforms, as prices vary.
2. Best wholesale suppliers for merchants based in North America or Europe
Sometimes it’s best to pick a wholesale supplier based on geography. Fast delivery is increasingly a priority for modern consumers. If you’re in North America or Europe, then these are the wholesalers you should know about.
EK Wholesale is based in Scotland and has been around for over 30 years, making it an ideal option for merchants who do a bulk of their business in Europe. EK is known for carrying high-quality goods and offers free delivery to the UK mainland on orders of £250 or more. Other benefits include:
- Specialization in clothing (but if you’re not selling clothes you might want to look elsewhere)
- Full integration with the Shopify POS
- Ability to design your own private label clothing brand
If most of your customers are based in the EU or your business specializes in the fashion niche, then working with EK Wholesale might be the best option for you.
Founded in 2017, Tundra is ideal for merchants based in North America. It has a wide variety of suppliers based on the continent—and a wide variety of goods, including beauty, kitchen, pets, and bags. Other things to know:
- Takes zero fees from suppliers. (Taking fees is a normal part of the wholesale business, so don’t be alarmed if you come across a company that does charge.)
- Free shipping on products for Pro Users (i.e., those who spend more than $500 a month).
- Handles shipping logistics from end-to-end, making its money through expedited service, supplier promotion, and brand exposure.
We recommend Tundra for dropshippers who are looking to save on shipping. The free delivery bonus could really make a difference to your business, especially if you’re new to the world of dropshipping.
3. Best wholesale suppliers for experienced dropshippers
If you already know what you’re doing when it comes to dropshipping, take a look at some of the options we’ve listed below. Experienced dropshippers who are comfortable navigating clunky websites or those with a very specific niche are sure to find some great price points.
Wholesale Central has over 1,400 suppliers, more than 700,000 products, and requires no membership fees. The website isn’t flashy, but if you know what you’re looking for and have some experience wholesaling, this can be a solid option.
- Wholesale Central offers a wide variety of options for dropshipping and wholesale only. There are no retail prices whatsoever, so make sure you have your business ID and tax number ready.
- You can search for dropshippers directly, and results are sorted by geography.
- No registration is needed: you can start searching and connecting to wholesalers right off the bat. Some other sites require a waiting period as they process your registration.
If you’re eager to get started on your dropshipping journey, not having a registration waiting period makes Wholesale Central a solid option.
IndiaMart’s range of suppliers is staggering—it stocks the usual consumer goods, medical and industrial supplies, and industrial and agricultural supplies. If you’re in one of the niches it supplies, this could be your best choice. Here’s why:
- IndiaMart is very good for certain niches; if you’re selling medical, chemical, industrial, or automobile supplies, then this is the site for you.
- It’s also one of the few to offer over-the-counter (OTC) pharmaceutical dropshipping services.
IndiaMart’s strength lies in its niches. Not a lot of other wholesale suppliers have contact with the industries that IndiaMart does.
Other considerations on finding your ideal wholesale supplier
If you have the patience to dig through the options we’ve laid out, you’re bound to find the right wholesale supplier for your business. Just make sure to avoid some of the common pitfalls:
- Overspending. On one hand, you want to spend enough so you actually get the benefit of working with a wholesale supplier, but you also don’t want to go all-in on a product that hasn’t been market tested. Know your budget limits and calculate what you should be paying.
- Fees. Know the membership fees or any extra costs you’re paying for so you don’t get surprised. Membership fees are the norm in the wholesale world, but make sure your supplier is upfront about it.
- Public selling. If a wholesale supplier offers goods to the public, that’s a red flag. Legitimate wholesale prices require business identification.
If you’re just starting your dropshipping journey and want a little extra help, consider Oberlo. This free app syncs with your Shopify account, meaning you can add products directly to your store. Dropshipping avoids the stress of packaging, shipping, and managing inventory.
“There are many ways to discover wholesale suppliers, but leveraging resources such as Alibaba that have a verified supplier program in place helps to ensure you are connecting with a trusted business. When possible, I also encourage in-person supplier discovery at trade shows, such as ASD Market Week, designed specifically to connect wholesalers to businesses.”
—Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, Founder of Retail Minded
Non-conventional ways to find wholesale suppliers
Using wholesale supplier marketplaces is the simplest way to connect with a wholesale supplier in 2021, but not the only way.
Those willing to stray from the beaten path just might find a great deal lurking around the corner. Other options for finding wholesale suppliers include:
- Going to an industry trade show and connecting with wholesale suppliers in person
- Joining social media groups for your niche and talking shop with other merchants
- Joining trade organizations for your product to see if any names come up
Those willing to do their meeting and greeting in person might be able to find a solution that’s ideal for their unique business needs. Some people work better in person, and building a business relationship face-to-face can lead to increased trust and cheaper prices down the line.
Once you’ve found your ideal wholesale supplier, it’s time to reach out and take the next steps.
What to ask when contacting a potential wholesale supplier
Before you pick up the phone, ensure you have the necessary business license and tax documents on hand.
You won’t be able to place an order at some companies—or even get their attention—without this information. The rules vary from state to state. (Do your research.) Wholesalers often have a special product license, meaning they legally cannot do business with consumers, only other businesses.
When you do call, here are key questions to ask:
- What are the minimum order quantities (MOQS)? If you’re looking to order 100 pieces of jewelry but the supplier only offers discounts on orders over 500 pieces, then that’s an issue.
- What’s the cost per unit? This question goes hand in hand with MOQs. According to the economies of scale, the more you order, the lower your cost per unit (CPU) will be. But don’t be tempted to order more than you need, especially if you’re just starting out. If a product isn’t as popular as you anticipated you’ll be left with a large surplus and a loss.
- What’s the return policy? If there’s a problem with an order, are you going to have to front the cost of returning the bulk order or will the wholesaler cover it? Knowing the answer to this upfront will help minimize risk.
- What is the lead time? When you’re running a dropshipping business you need to keep your customers happy. Knowing the lead time on a product lets you o manage customer expectations—and not leave them waiting indefinitely. Long delays mean unhappy customers. Especially when the product is sold out and restocking will take too long.
Ask clear, direct questions that will help you find answers to your most important questions.
“I’m thinking of maybe starting a dropshipping business sometime soon …” is the type of vague email that a busy wholesaler might just ignore. But straightforward questions that show you mean business—such as, “What’s your best price for 250 units per month?”—are more likely to get a reply.
“When in the sourcing research phase, I send multiples of the exact same message and compare response time, the substance of reply, knowledge of the industry, costs, turnaround estimates, and overall energy of any follow-up calls.”
—Gayneté Jones, Founder of Best PeriodT
And remember—oftentimes, you can negotiate with wholesale suppliers. Don’t be afraid to push back if the numbers they’re quoting won’t work for your margins.
Next, let’s see how you can make sure you’ve found the right wholesaler.
Final checks before you sign on the dotted line
You’ve done all the homework and are almost ready to come to an agreement with your wholesale supplier. But before you sign that contract, here are a few more things to check:
- Ask for references from other customers. If a company is reluctant to share this information with you, that may be a red flag.
- Do they have liability insurance? If not, be careful. This type of insurance is there to protect you in case anyone is injured by a faulty or damaged product that you sold them.
- Do the numbers make sense? Don’t overextend your business just because the discount offered is exciting. If you’re new to dropshipping, the best strategy is to buy only what you need. You don’t want to be left holding surplus stock if what you thought was the next hot product turns out to be a dud.
“One of the first and easiest measures of competence is the ability to provide relevant information—additional photos, shipping times, videos—quickly. Reliable wholesale suppliers prioritize communication.”—Ada Powers, Ecommerce Writer
Next, let’s look at some special considerations for popular products available to wholesale, along with some things you’ll need to keep your eyes on before placing a large order.
Popular wholesale products and considerations
When you’re looking for the right wholesale watch or jewelry supplier, make sure the wholesale supplier mentions the following key information. If they don’t, you might want to keep looking for another supplier.
- What are the product reviews like? Does the quality match consumer expectations?
- Who is the wholesaler currently supplying? If it’s a well-known ecommerce brand, that builds trust.
- Jewelry is small and delicate. If the worst happens, who pays for it? Iron out issues like this before you place an order.
Learn more: Build a jewelry business that sparkles
Fashion is highly popular among dropshippers, and the possibilities are constantly changing in line with the latest trends. A couple things that can make-or-break a fashion wholesaler:
- Possibility of brand customization (e.g., custom t-shirts or hoodies).
- The quality of the unboxing experience—packaging is the only channel that reaches 100% of your customers.
Learn more: Print on Demand: A Low-Risk Way to Sell Custom T-Shirts, Books, and More
Wholesale tea and coffee
Selling coffee online has an easy entry point, with its own considerations:
- Nobody sees a logo when they’re drinking coffee, so packaging is your only opportunity to connect with buyers.
- Establishing a brand identity is important for those in the food industry, and a good wholesaler should be willing to work with you on that.
Learn more: 17 Trending Online Products to Sell in 2022 (And How to Market Them)
Great wholesale suppliers are a great first step
Sourcing a supplier feels like a roadblock—you can’t open a store until you have something to sell. But it’s never been easier to find a reliable wholesaler of quality products (who also delivers on time).
Find a well-reviewed wholesaler who’s familiar with your niche. Get a few samples. Negotiate a price you can work with. And open that store.