Starting an Importing Business from Home
1993 by Home Business Publications
Carefully select and buy a product or line of products directly
from an overseas source for resale, eventually on an exclusive
basis. The ultimate objective is to offer products that you can buy
for an especially low price that are not available elsewhere, at
least at this time and this price.
This business requires a good deal of time and effort to find the
right overseas sources and products, and then have them shipped to
you. The product must generate enough revenue to be profitable, so
it should either result in a large mark-up per sale or sell in
sufficient quantity to provide a good return.
For these reasons, it is suggested that beginners first concentrate
on products that have already been imported — to learn about
marketing without unnecessary risking a large initial investment.
There are many U.S. sources for imported products, and it is easy
to specialize in a single product or line. However, it is almost
impossible to get exclusive rights or even territorial protection
because most importers sell to anyone with the money to buy.
By checking with many importers, you should be able to find
something that you believe has promise. Even if you don’t have
exclusive rights, you will learn how to market it and accumulate a
clientele that will help you decide what to import, hopefully for
your waiting buyers.
Buying direct from foreign countries is time consuming and requires
a good deal of paperwork, but it is not nearly as difficult as one
Otherwise there would not be so many importers. For some purchases
you need an import license, and you will often have to pay import
This is a good reason why it is a good idea to find out just which
countries are currently “in favor,” Where their goods are taxed
lightly, if at all. Import requirements, procedures and tax rates
vary drastically with the country of origin.
To get an idea of what to expect, write to the Bureau of Customs
(see Business Sources) and ask for their booklet “Rates of Duty for
Popular Tourist Items” When you are ready to start importing your
own merchandise, it would be wise to consult an attorney that is
well versed in import and international law. You might not need his
advice, but it is still a good idea to let him look over your
contracts and agreements.
It tales time and patience to become a successful importer, but the
rewards can be significant for one who is both shrewd and patient.
As a small importer looking for an exclusive, you will probably
want to concentrate on finding a small manufacturer in the country
of origin who will agree to let you serve as his stateside
representative — at least for a time.
An agreement can be made with a wide variety of possible terms, the
only criteria being that you both agree to them. Remember, however,
that other countries have different customs and legal systems. For
example, “sterling” silver does not mean the same thing in every
The best way for a relative beginner to start is to contact trade
representatives, usually through the appropriate embassies, and ask
them for lists of manufacturers who might have what you want. These
representatives will often help you get started because they are
interested in promoting the sale of merchandise to the United
Correspond with some of the more promising companies; find out
their prices, terms and obtain samples (by air; steamer may take 2
months). Now is the time to clarify any possible misunderstandings
— before you commit to a contract. Make sure they understand the
quality you require, and that you understand their policies. Find
out who else has dealt with this company and contact them for a
When satisfied with the products, terms, shipping procedures and
you know the import tax situation, have your attorney check the
contract, then deal!
There may still be problems — any business can expect a snafu here
and there — with shipments, breakage and even payment problems.
These are some of the reasons that merchandise that is imported
directly is so much cheaper.
The other reason is that when you import something, you usually
have do so in quantity. If it sells well, you are on cloud nine; if
it doesn’t — well now you know where jobbers get their
merchandise, and how they can sell it so cheap and still make a
profit! This is why some importers use the following variation:
You can sell imported goods without importing them. They are
available from importers, jobbers and several wholesale houses.
Sometimes excellent buys can be made on merchandise that someone
could not sell. Maybe time ran out on them, it was the wrong
market, or perhaps they didn’t market them wisely.. Just because
one entrepreneur cannot sell a product is not proof that another
won’t get rich on the same product!
The advantages of buying imported goods domestically sometimes
outweigh the extra cost (they are not always higher, though). There
is always someone who “gets lucky” — they spot a potential fad,
promote it before anyone else, or find new ways to market things
had problems with.
The most dangerous pitfall in this business is to stock up on
something that you can’t sell. The way to avoid this danger is to
test market before getting in too deep.
NEVER buy products in quantity just because YOU like them. Unless
you are that one in a million, the public will often disagree with
your personal tastes, which means you could lose a bundle!
Order a reasonable stock with the (written, if necessary) assurance
that you can buy larger amounts at the same (or lower) price, and
get immediate delivery.
Many suppliers (both here and abroad) will be happy to work with
you when they understand you are working on a promotion that can be
profitable to both of you.
SPECIALTY MERCHANDISE CORP., 9401 De Soto Ave.,Chatsworth, CA
91311-4991. sells imported merchandise to membership (cost, about
$250). Mostly novelties and giftware. Will drop-ship.
GALAXY ELECTRONICS, Box 17, Blythbourne Station, Brooklyn, NY
11219, 800/221-8294. Imported merchandise; heavy in radios,
novelties; good prices. $50 minimum purchase.
JZE ENTERPRISES, 2912 Springfield Rd.,St Frances Village, Bacolod
City, Philippines. Catalog of importable merchandise (carvings,
batiks, rattan) – $5, refundable.
CHINA CONSULTANTS INTERNATIONAL, Guardian House 905, #32 Oi Kwan
Rd.,Happy Valley, Hong Kong. Free book, “Advertising and Selling to
the People of China.”
INTERNATIONAL INTERTRADE INDEX, Box 636, Federal Square, Newark, NJ
07101. Newsletter that lists new import products.
TAIWANESE EMBASSY, CCNAA, Economics Division, 4301 Connecticut
Ave.,Ste 420, Washington, DC 20008. Information about products to
import from Taiwan.
INTERNATIONAL NEW PRODUCT NEWSLETTER, 6 St. James St.,Boston, MA
02116. Newsletter about new import products.
GERMAN AMERICAN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE, 666 5th Ave.,New York, NY
10019. Information on importing products from germany.
INTERNATIONAL TRADE COUNCIL, Box 73, Centro Colon, San Jose, Costa
Rica, CA 1007. Trade council for 18 Latin American Countries; free
list of 20,000 products and companies.
CHEU LAI YING, Block 48, Tampines Ave.,5 #06-270, Singapore,
republic of Singapore. Private contact for goods from Singapore.
ITALIAN TRADE COMMISSION, 499 Park Ave.,New York, NY 10022.
Information on importing products from Italy.
GENERAL CHAMBER OF COMMERCE, Rose Mansion, 162 Hsin Yi Road,
Section 3, Taipei, Taiwan. Good place to check on products from
Taiwan (as well as the embassy).
BRITISH TRADE DEVELOPMENT OFFICE, 845 Third Ave.,New York, NY
10022. Information on importing products from England.
COORDINATING COUNCIL FOR NORTH AMERICAN AFFAIRS, Commercial
Div.,20N Clark St.,19th Floor, Chicago, Il 60602. Information on
importing products from Taiwan.
O.H. URIHEULA, P.O. Box 40160, 0007 Arcadia, South Africa. Exports
African arts, crafts and toys.
S.H. LIM, Litaco Mfg. & Trading, Jurong East P.O. Box 12, Singapore
9160, Republic of Singapore. Exports consumer goods, stamps, asian
arts and crafts.
DOVER PUBLICATIONS, 31 East 2nd St.,Mineola, NY 11051. Discount
books, picture postcards, clip art and stencils. Excellent source
for accessories; good prices.
QUILL CORPORATION, 100 Schelter Rd.,Lincolnshire, IL 60917-4700,
Office supplies (probably best mail order prices).
NEBS, 500 Main St.,Groton, MA 04171, 800/225-6380. Office supplies.
Good, fast service.
IVEY PRINTING, Box 761, Meridan, TX 76665. Letterhead: 400 sheets
plus 200 matching envelopes – $18.
ZPS, Box 581, Libertyville, IL 60048-2556. Business cards (raised
print – 411.50 per K) and letterhead stationery. Will print your
copy ready logo or design, even whole card.
SWEDCO, Box 29, Mooresville, NC. Three line rubber stamps – $3;
Business cards – $13 per thousand.
WALTER DRAKE, 4119 Drake Bldg.,Colorado Springs, CO 80940. Short
run business cards, stationery, etc. Good quality, but no choice of
style or color.
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