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Tips for Finding eBay Vendors

Get the eBay products you want--and the quality your customers demand--with these tips for finding a product supplier.

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More than 724,000 entrepreneurs make a living on eBay, and many got started with just a few items from a garage sale or off a dusty shelf at home. So how did they move from eBay as a hobby to eBay as a business? Savvy product sourcing.

Finding products customers want to buy at a price they're willing to pay requires strategic planning. The goal is to identify suppliers with quality merchandise you can afford and in quantities you have room to store. The list may include manufacturers, wholesale and closeout distributors, liquidators or job lot traders.

Trade shows, online marketplaces and trade portals are efficient tools that offer a snapshot view of what's selling and at what price, as well as company contact information.

Trade shows provide access to hundreds of potential suppliers, giving you the chance to see what's hot in the market and check product quality firsthand. The face-to-face contact alone may be worth your attendance. "The human element never goes away in terms of getting a better deal," says Sam Bundy, group president of VNU Expositions-ASD/AMD Merchandise Group, a trade show management company in Santa Monica, California.

For exhibitor information, check with the local convention and visitor's bureau in the host city or with the show's management. Some show managers post a list online with hyperlinks to exhibitor information. If the selection is too broad, look for small regional shows with a narrower product focus.

Jen Lowe, 33, and Tom Nessen, 31, co-owners of Boom Boom Percussion LLC (eBay User ID: boomdrums) in Atlanta, turned to trade shows to diversify their line of musical instruments. "The show was a good place to go and start building connections with new vendors," Nessen says.

When meeting with vendors, avoid asking questions that peg you as a newbie. Asking about payment and credit terms or product features is a big no-no. "These are questions you wouldn't be asking if you were experienced," says Eric Lau, 26, co-founder of Vision Decor Furniture (eBay User ID: visiondecor) in City of Industry, California, with $7 million in annual sales. "They put doubts in the vendor's mind."

If trade shows aren't an option, online solutions offer a convenient, affordable alternative. Companies post wholesale pallets for sale on trade portals and bulletin boards. The Michigan State University Center for International Business Education and Research hosts a comprehensive website that lists many of these sites as well as a trade leads bulletin board.

For products overseas, a service for exporters in China is available from Global Sources Ltd. (eBay User ID: globalsourcesdirect) and for general buyers at its online store, "It's a good place to start for somebody new to importing," says Peter Zapf, vice president of Global's Singapore location. Though importing introduces issues of customs clearance and duties, Zapf says, "those complexities are offset by access to products at much lower cost."

PowerSellers can also find merchandise through eBay's new Reseller Marketplace, which provides access to inventory directly from suppliers without having to qualify with each supplier or meet high-dollar minimums. Howard Rosenberg, eBay's director of trading platforms, says offering "merchandise in a wide variety of categories available at any given time provides an opportunity for PowerSellers to grow their existing business or expand to new product categories."

Julie Monahan is a writer in Seattle whose articles on small business and emerging technology have appeared in numerous consumer and trade magazines.