For as long as people have been around, there has been trade.
Imports and exports are how the potato came to Ireland, and in a more modern-day take, it’s now how we’re able to buy food, drinks, furniture, clothes, and practically everything else from around the globe.
Imports are any goods or services that are brought from one country and into another. Exports are goods and services produced in the home country and sold to markets overseas.
When it comes to the world of importing and exporting, Mahmoud Eid has years worth of experience. An entrepreneur who got his start in the importing and exporting industry in his early career, Mahmoud Eid serves as the director of a successful general supply company and has made great strides in the competitive sector of international commerce. Today, he offers his unique insights into the world of international trade.
The modern international trade system is a very complex web of import/export companies that handle the sale, distribution, and delivery of goods from one nation to another.
If you find yourself interested in starting a business in the industry, know there’s more than one type of import/export business. You could focus solely on just importing or exporting. You could also be a manufacturer’s representative, specializing in one industry, or you could be an import/export merchant or agenda, which is more of a freelance broker position.
If you’re interested in entering the world of international trade, continue reading for pointers from trade expert Mahmoud Eid.
Pick a product to import or export
The first step in starting an import/export business is to find a product or industry you’re passionate about and that you believe you could sell in international markets.
“When I first entered the industry, there was a great need for general supply,” says Mahmoud Eid. “Today, we sell competitively in the international markets because we offer a variety of general goods.”
Once you find your product, you also have to identify the proper market for it. After all, everyone needs someone to sell to. This is where your trend analysis comes into play. The best products for an import/export business are the products that are just starting to get popular or show some promise to be popular in the future.
You can do some research using resources such as GlobalEDGE’s Market Potential Index or by looking into local government officials and websites, like the Department of Commerce International Trade Administration’s Data and Analysis. You can also find reports on the state of imports and exports with the Census Bureau Foreign Trade.
“Test your ideas first,” says Eid. “Don’t assume that what you think will sell just because you love it and think it’ll catch fire in the market. What catches fire in the market is more than just the way it tastes – it’s your connections, the packaging and serendipity of the timing, and all of the indirect soft elements that make a difference.”
Source your suppliers
Once you have a product you’d like to trade internationally, you need to find a local manufacturer/alternative producer that makes your product and develop a strong partnership. Having a good relationship with a supplier is crucial to long-running success in this business.
Generally, you can find suppliers through various companies such as Global Sources. You also have to convince the supplier of the benefits of entering the U.S. market (or any other market you plan to sell to.) and figure out the logistics of taking their product from their local warehouse to a different one, potentially on the other side of the world.
Price your product
“You know what product you want to work with, you’ve identified your target market. The next step is figuring out how much you should charge,” adds Eid.
Usually, the business model of an imports/exports business includes two key things: the volume of units sold, and the commission made on that volume.
Be sure to price your product so that your markup on the product (AKA what ends up being your commission) is at most what a customer is going to be willing to pay for it. But you don’t want to make it too low such that you aren’t going to pull a profit. In the imports/exports industry, importers and exporters generally take 10%-15% makeup above what the manufacturer charges you when you buy the product.
Find your customers
Finally, you have to find customers to sell to.
Deciding on a market isn’t the same as finding customers. You can’t just send your products to the Port of New York and start selling your products on the docks to whoever happens by. You typically have to find distributors and clients who will take your product and sell it to other people.
If you have a good quality website that includes digital marketing campaigns, your customers could find you. But in order to get started, Eid suggests doing things a little old-fashioned – by doing some cold calls. Check with any local contacts you have in the area, contact the area’s Chamber of Commerce, their trade consulates, embassies – everyone. These entities could be able to give you a local contact list that could be essential to helping you start your imports/exports business.