In the Internet age, it's easy to find Chinese suppliers for your import business. Business-to-business websites such as Alibaba.com let you search for items you're interested in buying, or you can post a purchase request. If you find a suitable Chinese vendor, you begin negotiating. Finding a supplier is no guarantee of success, though. You have to check for quality, negotiate prices and be careful that everything you import conforms to U.S. law.
Even if the supplier you found online looks like a perfect fit, that doesn't guarantee he's legitimate. Run a background check to confirm his company exists. Look for any charges of labor or environmental violations. A research service such as Globis or China Checkup can investigate the company for you. You can also contact a legal or accounting firm in China to do the research. If the company checks out, ask for customer references and call to interview them. If you can visit the facilities in China yourself or send someone you trust, that gives you eyewitness proof of what the operation is like.
Ask for Samples
Even if the vendor has a first-rate, modern factory, she may turn around and subcontract to someone cheaper and shoddier. Ask her to send you some samples, or place a small order, perhaps $1,000 worth. When the shipment arrives, inspect the quality of the product and also the packaging. If the product comes with instructions, read them to see if they're understandable. If you decide the quality of the sample isn't good enough, look for a different supplier.
Following the Law
Before you import anything, research any relevant federal safety, health or other standards. The Environmental Protection Agency has to certify any imported chemical substances, for instance. If your imports are subject to EPA review, contact the manufacturer. Ask if he's familiar with the certification requirements and can meet them. If he can't meet them, you'll need to look for another vendor.
Negotiating the Deal
If everything looks good, work out a deal. Make your product specifications precise and explicit, so the supplier is contractually obligated to deliver the quality you want. A clause in the contract banning subcontracting can help protect the quality of the goods. The standard payment terms are 30 percent down, 70 percent on delivery. If your supplier insists on more money upfront, treat that as a warning sign.
Importing Your Prize
When a shipment of goods arrives at a port in the United States, you have to file entry documents for your imports. The documents require detailed information that helps Customs set the duty fees to charge. The information also lets Customs decide whether the goods are safe to import. Customs officers may inspect the shipment to see if it's what you say it is. Some importers hire a customs broker to handle the entry requirements.