Sunday, March 7, 2004

No short route to suppliers

Middlemen vital

By Rhonda Abrams
Gannett News Service

If you're opening a toy shop, how do you find toys to put on your shelves?

On the other hand, if you're manufacturing toys, how do you get your toys onto those shelves?

In the business world, whether you're buying or selling, you're likely to need a middleman - a person or company that can put buyers and sellers together.

While middlemen might be much maligned, in reality, they serve very valuable functions.

They serve manufacturers by being the marketing, sales, and service arm for their businesses. In turn, they serve buyers by selecting the best choices.

But if you're new to business, where do you find these valuable intermediaries and vendors?

•  The best way to find a supplier or distributor is the old-fashioned way - asking someone who's knowledgeable for a recommendation. If you don't know anyone in the same industry, ask others in related industries.

• Trade associations are an excellent source for locating suppliers (or marketing your goods to a target industry). Besides holding annual or regional conventions and trade shows where suppliers exhibit their products and services, many associations publish supplier directories, in print and online. Use an online search engine such as Google to find your trade association or drill down to the "Gateway to Associations" at the American Society of Association Executives Web site,, choose "Directories," then "Associations."

•  The Thomas Register is like a giant business Yellow Pages. Just go to the Web site, for their free, searchable database of products manufactured in America. The Thomas Register is particularly useful for hard-to-find industrial products.

• Most people think of eBay for consumers, but eBay also has a section for industrial supplies and products sold in large lots. Go to

• Most online directories maintain separate categories for business-related topics. Yahoo!, as one of the oldest directories, has an extensive list. You can find it at s_to_Business/. (Full disclosure: I own shares of Yahoo! stock.)

• Google: Like Yahoo!, Google maintains a directory for business-to-business Web sites, at

Business/. Check "Wholesale trade" and "Industrial goods and services." You also can use Google or any other search engine to look for wholesalers or distributors by searching on the appropriate terms (for instance, "toy wholesalers").

• National Association of Manufacturers: NAM ( is an umbrella organization comprised of 350 trade associations involved in manufacturing industries, as well as 14,000 NAM members. NAM maintains a free Buyer-Seller network Web site,

Rhonda Abrams is the author of "The Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies." For her free business planning newsletter, register at

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