Terry Hawks has a whole new "leash" on life. In his former profession, his focus was all about telecommunications. He knew this industry inside and out, and he had deep connections in the field.
Naturally, when he began his eponymously named eBay business, he stuck to the products he knew so well and understood completely.
"I had established relationships with many suppliers and long-term working relationships with them," Hawks explains.
We've long advocated starting your eBay business with a product you know well. It gives your listings, and your whole operation, a jump start if you know and understand the vocabulary, products and challenges within your field of operation. You can more easily spot a good sourcing buy if you know your product area, and you may even have some built-in customers based on your many years of background experience. But, eBay, like life, has a way of taking us places we may not have planned to go.
The great thing about global competition is [it creates] global opportunities to sell whatever you want
Learning a new trick
Through a series of "life events," according to Hawks, he's ended up in the business of sourcing and selling dog clothes. He took his own advice by starting with something he knew well and then broadened his scope by looking at his hobbies, interests and even areas he felt he could learn about quickly. Through AliExpress, the wholesale sourcing site of Alibaba.com, Hawks found products that suited his selling goals.
"I added dog clothing, and within 30 to 45 days, I was in the dog clothes business!" he says.
Hawks closed the doors on his wireless accessory business, and his new venture was off and running.
Sourcing dog clothing took Hawks out of the comfortable niche market he'd been operating in for so long, and he credits his new sources to hundreds of hours of research. His first encounter with AliExpress came in the middle of the night. With the time difference between North America and China, Hawks found himself spending the wee hours of the morning in online chats or reviewing e-mail responses.
"It was a good experience, overall, and it compelled me to search for more options," he says. "The great thing about global competition is [it creates] global opportunities to sell whatever you want. If a product is made, there is someone waiting to buy it."
Hawks took things slowly at first. He spent many hours communicating and getting to know his potential trading partners. With each encounter he learned a little more about the products he was sourcing and the people behind the manufacturing companies he was considering.
"Just like with eBay sellers, after some research and time, you will find the ones who are relationship builders and want to be long-term suppliers," he notes.
Getting over the bumps
Hawks offers wise advice to those who are overeager to get started: International product sourcing seems huge, because it is, but behind every transaction is a group of humans who are trying to come together to achieve their goals. Time, patience and due diligence will help you to ensure that you achieve your goal of finding a reliable partner rather than someone who has decided his goal is to just take your money.
Overall, Hawks' experiences have been quite positive.
"I have only had one bad experience in working through AliExpress, and it was one of my first buys," he recalls. "I bought a product and, in the beginning, it seemed to go well." He had gone on to order from a number of suppliers, but as he started to receive his orders, he realized one early order had not arrived. He started to track down the shipment.
"I placed my order on Nov. 17, and the supplier says they shipped it the next day. By the middle of December, I knew I was going to miss the Christmas selling season, so I demanded an immediate refund," Hawks recalls.
"One of the many things I love about AliExpress is any payments are held in escrow until you receive your shipment," he continues. If the supplier fails to deliver the product within 60 days, the money will be sent back to the buyer.
"Knowing this supplier has not received his money is kind of sweet," Hawks adds, "but on the other hand, my working capital is held up."
When we spoke with Hawks, he'd just received notification from the AliExpress Dispute Team that his refund was being processed.
AliExpress allows me to buy in large quantities, not just from China, but other countries as well
In spite of this one bump in the road to finding good trading partners, he's pleased about how well things have gone working through AliExpress.
"AliExpress allows me to buy in large quantities, not just from China, but other countries as well," he notes. "I have a broad range of suppliers from many different countries to choose from."
It's still about communication
So how does Terry know when it's time to give a new supplier a try? "My suggestion would be to start making contact with some of these suppliers, and see how quickly they respond and how well they communicate," he advises. "Some of their responses are quite comical, because they may not be fluent in English."
Although language differences aren't a big problem for English speakers wanting to use AliExpress, Hawks offers a warning: Some suppliers use the language difficulties to their advantage. "Assume nothing, until you have a working solution as well as terms worked out," he cautions.
With his future firmly planted in the dog world, we were curious about how Hawks knows when he's found a good product.
"My fiancée has a keen idea for design, and what she thinks will sell," he says. Then he works out the rest of the equation on the selling side. "Not every product you buy will sell," he adds. "For me, if it gets listed for seven days and isn't moving well, I'll drop the price to get rid of it, and hope the next buy will be better.
Hawks loves that he can pay for his AliExpress purchases through PayPal, and he loves the broad range of products and suppliers he can find through the site. Overall, he's found his experience with international product sourcing to be much like the business experiences he's had both in his former career in telecommunications and in his life as an e-commerce merchant. Due diligence and good communication is where it all begins. Looking for trading partners outside the U.S. borders requires many of the same interpersonal skills as looking for business partners in the next town over.
"The cream will rise to the top in the service they provide," he says. "The good ones have longevity and good skills, and are eager to be long-term partners."