How to source an overseas supplier

Published · 2 min read

Supplier costs may be a struggle for many UK businesses, but buying from overseas suppliers can be a cost effective solution whilst giving you access to goods you might not be able to source in the UK. As someone who’s imported containers from India through to tiny packages of diamonds from Sri Lanka I can safely say that there are differences not only in each country but for each type of product – some products attract more duty than others for example & each country has a complicated set of rules that must be adhered to.

Sourcing a supplier

If you’re searching for suppliers then you have a few options. Online resources are your easiest. You can research suppliers and find listings for overseas manufacturers and contact them directly. I’m thinking of suppliers such as but there are others too. Just type in your request and look for matches – remember to factor in shipping and taxes!

Trade shows can be useful with some domestic shows having sections for overseas suppliers (depending on the size of the show). There are also some UK exhibitions exclusively for overseas exhibitors just to save you the trouble and expense of getting on a plane.

International Trade shows are one of the best ways of sourcing your supplier. At a trade show in the suppliers own country you can quickly see which business is the biggest, most design led, has the most modern designs, or whatever is most important to you. This is easier to ascertain at a foreign show because when suppliers come to the UK for example they are all allocated a similar sized and furnished booth so it is harder for them to distinguish themselves.

Try before you buy

So where do you start? The first thing you should do is to request a sample and to check it for quality, finish, colourfastness, material strength, whatever it is that’s important to you. Once you are satisfied with the sample (and this may take some time and several attempts, as what may be very clear to you may not translate so clearly to your supplier in another country with very different references) then you can proceed to ordering.

Years ago in India I ordered Business cards with pictures of suns printed on them (don’t judge me, they were fashionable at the time) when they arrived I opened them with some excitement to see that all the suns had moustaches! But why I asked with some alarm? Because in India the sun is considered to be male, so therefore he should definitely have a moustache! The moral of the story is to always see a sample before committing to your order.

Arranging payment

Be prepared when you order to pay a deposit – usually at least 30% of the value of the order to secure the order, this is payable upfront with the balance payable either just before delivery or upon delivery.

As with most things in life, with a healthy dose of time and commitment you will be able to create a relationship with reputable suppliers and while trading across borders and cultural barriers may not be the easiest thing in the world it certainly makes it interesting and done right, it can take your business to a whole new level.


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