Direct international sourcing is a business imperative today for any progressive retailer or wholesaler in the home fashion business. Based on a few thousand meetings over the last 15 years, I have noticed a few common practices of companies who have the most successful sourcing stories.
1. Begin before you start: Smart buyers start the business trip several weeks in advance. They begin by identifying at least double the number of suppliers they wish to engage with and start communication in advance, giving out clear descriptions of what they are looking for, and in some cases, sharing design ideas as well. This process not only helps in getting down to the right product, but the buyer also gets to assess the communication skills and service attitudes of potential vendors.
2. Too many meetings, too little time: Outcome depends on focus! Some buyers end up planning far too many meetings in a short amount of time. Most successful buyers include a factory visit and separate time to look at new ideas. Creativity is a major strength of Indian companies and you must use their full potential.
3. Business is personal: Personal relationships and networking are extremely critical tools while conducting business in India. Successful buyers frequently accept dinner invitations from vendors. This enables them to get extra market knowledge and gain a better understanding of vendor capabilities. Most Indian businesses are small to medium scale and driven largely by owner personalities. Knowing the owners of businesses is just as important as knowing their products.
4. Respect creativity: Prices do vary from vendor to vendor, and occasionally there can be mouth-watering differences between Chinese and Indian prices. The best buyers make sure that designs and developments of one vendor are not shared with another just for the sake of getting better prices.
5. Travel and stay arrangements: It is advisable to stay in reputable hotels. Budget hotels can be a drain on your efficiency. Taxis are not always convenient for transportation in Delhi and it is best to arrange for the hotel to pick you up from the airport and then the vendors to pick you up from the hotel. It is common, cost saving and convenient to have the next vendor pick you up from the previous meeting.
6. Sourcing centers: Business parks like the International Home Deco Park (www.ihdp-india.com ) in Delhi make a buyer’s job easy and the trip really productive. You get to see the best of what the country has to offer in just a day.
7. Sourcing services: Some buyers prefer to work by hiring professional buying services or a private buying agent. The outcome largely depends on who you are hiring. Agents/buying services are usually engaged through references of vendors or colleagues from other companies.
Lastly, have realistic expectations about your visit. India is not just a land of snake charmers, as media stories might have you believe. It has a growing economy, is throbbing with activity and is full of brilliant companies. India is a land of contrast: an astonishing variety of cultures, languages and skills. A very large portion of the population is English-speaking, which makes it very easy to communicate.
All in all, India is a fascinating spectacle—enjoy it!
Aditya Gupta is co-founder and president of International Home Deco Park (IHDP)—India’s first B2B marketplace for home fashion. He can be reached at email@example.com.