How To Source Cool Products

I have never been able switch off from work, which is probably the main reason why I chose to start my own business. Some people tell me this is a negative thing, but I think when you love what you do, not switching off is OK. And I’m not thinking about my business because I’m worried. On the contrary, I’m excited.

Constantly on the lookout for new products, I get excited when I stumble across something new and different: a new product that a friend is after, something I spot in a shop window or catch a glimpse on TV or internet. I surround myself with inspiration, but sometimes I think the right products also just find me.

One of my favourite jobs in my business is sourcing new products. I have always loved shopping and putting together groups of complementary products to create a range. Whilst this task is an essential part of my business, I also use it as a bit of a “carrot”. If I do my BAS statement, I can spend a couple of hours product sourcing. So far it’s worked extremely well as a motivator to get my not-so-favourite jobs done. There are a few different ways that I source products, which I thought I would share.

1. Word of mouth
This is one of the most powerful ways of finding great gear. One of my success stories was the It’s About Time cufflinks I found after a friend emailed me a photo of some cufflinks he was trying to track down. The cufflinks have a Steampunk vibe, as they are made from the internal mechanism of vintage watches. I contacted Robin Frances, the US jewellery designer who makes them, and we chatted on Skype. Robin is delightful. She’s so knowledgeable and passionate about what she does. We placed an order and my friend was blown awat when he received the cufflinks. We have now placed subsequent orders and have an awesome product and a brand we adore. WIN!

2. Trade fairs
In Australia, there are a couple of key trade shows in Sydney and Melbourne that many retailers visit at least once a year. The trade shows are a great place to connect with designers, brands and wholesalers for gift and homewares products. During the toughest years of the Global Financial Crisis, the trade shows didn’t excite me as everyone was playing it safe and sticking to what they knew worked. There weren’t many new and exciting things and there was a lack of product innovation. Things have finally started to pick up over the last year. There are a number of new brands that have emerged and existing brands are starting to try new things again.

We went to the Sydney fair at the end of February and I have a list of new products and brands that I’m working through to add to our website. I like to stagger the launch of new products so we always have something new coming through and I’m pretty excited that we’ve managed to fill quite a few product gaps that I’d identified before the show.

3. Internet
The internet is a wonderful resource for sourcing products globally. I’m a huge advocate of emerging brands and designers. Sometimes I feel like a journalist trying to break a hot news story when I find a new home-grown brand that our customers may not have seen before. One of my biggest sources of satisfaction is stumbling across a new niche brand or product that we can retail exclusively – like BottleHood glasses from El Cajon, California. There are so many talented creative people out there who make amazing, high-quality products. I could (happily) spend my life tracking them down.

I hope I have given you a bit more insight into this aspect of my business and I’d love your comments and feedback. How do you shop? Are you impulsive and decisive or do you need time to carefully consider a purchase? Do you shop differently for different products i.e. buying clothes vs. buying furniture or a computer?

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Courtney Symes

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