Finding a Product that Sells on a Shoestring

Finding a profitable niche is even more important when you are starting a business or new product line on a shoestring. You haven’t got time or money to waste, so you need to be able to determine in advance when you’ve got a hot item that will sell itself if people know about it.

It is not difficult to find suppliers who will give you a reasonable price on hundreds of an item at a time. It is much more difficult to find suppliers who will sell you two or ten at a time. Or one. At least, who will do so at a price you can afford to pay and still have room to make a profit. Expect to purchase for 50-75% of the resale price if you want to make a profit without running yourself into the ground. For many product types, that can be hard to find. For many of the product types that you can find at those prices, nobody wants them because they are saturated markets.

So how do you find products you can sell at a profit, that people actually want to buy? Well, there isn’t a simple answer, because each market area varies, but there are some ideas that can help you find what works within your arena.

  1. Make do. When you are looking for a new product, you probably won’t be able to go out and find a manufacturer to make something just for you. Find something that can be used in the same manner, and sell that instead, or something that you can easily modify. If you are smart about it, you can get by until you can afford to have something custom made. If there is competition in the market, you’ll have to offer a significantly lower price if yours has a built in inconvenience or detraction, but if you can still come out at a profit, there is a market niche for that.
  2. Simplify. Look for the simpler ways of doing things, not the complicated ways. If you make a thing, make sure you can do it fast enough to profit from it at the price you can sell it for. Make sure you can repeatedly get low cost materials to make it so the cost of production does not eat up your profits. Keep things as simple as you possibly can to start with. If something is too complex, brainstorm easier ways to do it. This is how inventions come about!
  3. Get creative. Don’t just look at what a product was designed to do. Look at how it can be used and niched to fill a need. There are actually a lot of raw products out there which can be adapted to various uses, and just by changing the label, you have a salable product without having to significantly remake the item. If you know a particular item might sell, think about how you can make it using existing low cost supplies. When searching for supplies, get creative in how you search, as well. Many supply items go by many names, and are classed under multiple categories. A polished round wooden piece with a hole in the middle may be classed as a “wooden wheel”, a “wood donut bead”, a “wooden circle”, or a “wood round”. It might be found on jewelry sites, toy making sites, craft sites, woodworking sites, or wholesale import parts supply sites.
  4. Dropship. Drop shipping means that the supplier ships it direct from their warehouse to your customer. Blind drop shipping means they put YOU as the reseller, not themselves. Either way can work, though if it is NOT blind drop shipped, you will need to note on your sales page that the item is “shipped direct from the manufacturer”. Finding drop shipping companies is NOT simple. People think they can source them by searching for “dropship merchandise” or something like that. Nope! That gets you a bunch of scam companies that have no unique product, who overcharge you, and who could care less about the success of your business. The best way to find drop ship companies is to go find a product you really like, or have a use for and know you can sell, and see if they drop ship. Many do that do not publish that fact. Many mom and pop companies will drop ship if you explain what you want, and many will go out of their way to blind drop ship for you as well. The rule is, find a drop shipper based on the PRODUCT search, not based on a search for drop shippers, if you want to find a good one. Remember, when you choose to drop ship, you lower your operational costs, you do not have to worry about carrying inventory, and you spend only a few minutes processing an order to make your profit. But you rely on the supply company for YOUR reputation. You also have to make sure you pass on accurate shipping costs, which can be difficult if you carry items from more than one supplier. It can be a good place to start when you are needing to get product moving on a shoestring.
  5. Be flexible. Many people get an idea in their heads, and if it does not work exactly how they wanted it to, they bail. So maybe you decide to sell 3 armed widgets, and all you get are requests for 4 armed widgets. If you can supply 4 armed widgets, and that is where the demand is, by all means, adjust your dream and go with what is needed! Don’t get so stuck on doing what you want that you forget to pay attention to what the customer wants. Most new businesses start out with different concepts than they end up with – because certain things you do not know until you try them, and when you do, it is only smart to learn and adapt, even if it doesn’t seem to be quite what you thought it would be. Follow the opportunities, and don’t get discouraged over the seeming failures – they aren’t failures, they are learning experiences.
  6. Try a new angle. There are more saturated markets out there than you can shake a stick at. Often the difference between being another of the numbers, and a wild success is the way in which you approach the product and marketing. Come at it from a fresh angle. Put a spin on it that makes it more desirable – most saturated markets are saturated because the item IS popular, there are just more people trying to capitalize on it than there are customers who want to buy from a new source. Humor, kindness, color, decoration, attitude. All of those things make the product YOU sell more desirable than the product someone else sells, even if it is functionally identical.
  7. Level the competitive field. When you are a small business trying to compete against a big business, you need to offer something desirable that they CANNOT offer. Look at the business model of the competitor. Find the weakness. Maybe they don’t have an easy way to contact a real person. Maybe they cater to a 20 something crowd, and ignore the older customers. Maybe they offer automated product delivery that could be personalized. Look for a thing that they can’t change without losing what makes them distinctive. Offer THAT along with the product. Your competition can’t touch that – and even if your store is not as professional looking as theirs, and even if your product is a little more inconvenient to get, if it meets the needs of people who are NOT being served by the big competitor(s), you’ve got a chance to grow around them.
  8. Add value. Sometimes if you can’t find a product to resell that you can get at a true wholesale price, you may be able to add value to it. It isn’t really that hard, it can be very simple. Sell it in a bundle, sell it with a decoration added, sell it with better instructions or personally accessible help. Add value somewhere that makes it worth paying more for, or which makes it a separate product type.
  9. Brainstorm. Get together in a group of business people – I don’t mean the ones that wear suits and think the only way to do business is according to the SBA. I mean other small business owners who have done similar shoestring startups. Make sure they are people who are following their dream – then you don’t have to worry about them sealing YOUR dream (you won’t want your competition in the brain trust, as a general rule). Discuss ways to improve value, niche a product, and source a wholesale product or drop-ship product. Often the synergy of two, three, or four people is enough to spark some ideas. Generally, they won’t tell you the thing you need to do to make your business work – but something they say will spark your creativity and help you get past a hurdle. There is great power in brainstorming.

You absolutely need to avoid selling products which are carried by every discount department store in the country. Nobody wants to buy those for the price you’d have to charge, plus shipping.

You’ve got to do better than that! And you can!

Our company is now offering Cottage Industry Consulting to help you get started right.

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