This post is by Manuel Becvar, Founder & CEO of sourcing education site Import Dojo. Manuel has been living and working in Hong Kong for the last 11 years. He runs several businesses including a sourcing company and a private label business selling products on Amazon, as well as public speaking and providing online courses.
How do you find a private label product to sell? This is the number one question I get asked on an almost daily basis.
I have no definite answer for you today but I will break it down in two parts including a step-by-step example of how I select products. Hopefully you’ll get a few ideas!
We will look at:
- How to pick a product niche, by looking at your personal situation.
- How to pick a product to private label within your niche.
Part 1: How to pick your product niche
Look at your personal situation to help figure out which category of products you should get started with.
Scenario 1: You’ve got money
Congratulations! You have a pretty free choice of which niche to start in.
While it will be easier to get started, the question of which product you are going to pick still remains open. More on that below.
Scenario 2: You don’t have money
You’re scraping together every little cent you have to reach $5,000 because that’s the budget you heard is the minimum (it’s also the minimum that I recommend to everyone).
While it will be more difficult to get started, you do have the same opportunities as everyone else out there. You probably want to make sure that the product you are going to pick to private label is worth the investment.
But even if your first product is not a killer, don’t worry. You will learn a lot in the process and in most cases you can at least get your investment back. Read on.
Scenario 3: You have a large following on social media
You are in a great spot. You already have a list of potential customers to get your product launched and selling. But it is imperative to pick a product that fits with your social media following.
In my recent case study I reached out to bloggers and that boosted my launch immensely. Nearly three months later I still get sales from blog postings.
What does that mean if you have a large following? Let’s say you have an Instagram account with 50,000 followers that covers healthy eating, fitness, the outdoors etc. You could launch many products to those followers, even in competitive niches. For example:
- Yoga mats
- Gym accessories (drinks bottles, bags, sporting items)
- Backpacks, traveling gear, camping accessories
If you don’t have a following now, once you have researched and decided on your niche build a social media presence right away. A client of mine built a social media following of 8,000 followers within 2 months (through various social sites) and then launched her product. She sold nearly 100 pieces the first week only through social media. That helped boost her organic sales and the rest is history.
Once you have launched your first private label product, you should enlarge your range with similar products that fit into your following. For example if your first product was a yoga mat, and your social media accounts cover fitness, it doesn’t make a lot of sense if your next product is a vacuum cleaner.
Scenario 4: You are passionate about a certain product category
Let’s say you love the outdoors, hiking, camping, and exercise in general (like me). There are so many products to choose from, but you have two advantages:
- You know what you like.
- You know what your product should be able to do.
So you already have an edge over many of your competitors.
Put your passion for this category into your product. For example, if you were disappointed about the quality of camping mats you purchased in the past, you already know what to tell your supplier to improve upon. Choose products you can talk about, improve and be passionate about selling.
Here’s a real-life example. I recently bought a travel bag from a German entrepreneur based in Thailand who loves traveling. Over the years he went through many travel bags because they were of poor quality (the straps broke, the leather peeled etc.). So he decided to make his own bags.
After six months of hard work he launched his site and product and it took off immediately. All his passion went into the product and site (Travlmind). You could tell by his story that he was really passionate about creating the best bags out there and not just copying the big brands. That convinced me to buy one of the bags even though it had a higher price tag.
Scenario 5: You have extensive experience in a specific industry
Let’s imagine you have 17 years of experience selling electronics (like me). What was the first product I picked? It was an electronic item. Why? Because that’s where I had my experience.
I believe you should not just have passion about your product, but also experience. If I sell a product online I want to be able to answer customers’ questions and inquiries. So when I started my own brand I improved an existing item based on my industry knowledge.
What if you don’t have experience in an industry? Do you have a hobby? Or are you a parent? If you are a parent you’ll have lots of experience with your children and could perhaps start in that category.
Scenario 6: You have none of the above
You shouldn’t worry if you don’t have a social media following, products you are passionate about or industry experience. Most people I know are in this scenario and there are still many success stories.
Here’s a brainstorming and research approach that I recommend:
- Take out a notebook and list your interests, hobbies or responsibilities. Yes, actually write it down. Call me old-fashioned, but I still find writing to be the best medium for generating ideas.
- Subscribe to newsletters from companies that talk about or sell products related to your interests. You’ll find some ideas for this in Part 2 below.
- Over time, gather a list of at least ten product ideas in that niche.
- Research existing products, consumer demand and selling prices using Amazon, eBay, Jet.com, local shops, tools like Jungle Scout etc. Is there space for one more seller (you)?
- If there is no demand, is it because the product is in its fledgling stages? If you can improve the product, create a to-do list of improvements based on reviews, feedback from friends and family etc. Then move onto finding a supplier.
- If there is no evidence of demand and you can’t improve the product, but still think it could sell, then follow your gut feeling and also ask around your friends. Move onto finding a supplier if you remain sure.
- Move onto the next product in your list of ideas.
Let’s say you have found your niche, category or general product idea. You are now ready to find your first private label product. In Part 2 I’ll give you a few examples of how to do that.
Part 2: How to find product ideas
Let’s look at the following options:
- Blogs, gadget and trend sites
- Trade shows
- Supermarkets and shopping malls
- Research tools
- Alibaba and Global Sources
You can look for hours on Amazon in the different categories and niches, if you already have a product idea.
If you have no idea at all, I suggest you start with the best seller lists.
Blogs, gadget and trend sites
Please don’t look just on Amazon! There are great tools to scout for products there, but I get many of my ideas from other sites. By looking outside Amazon, you have the opportunity to bring something new to the marketplace.
One of my favorite sites to find interesting blogs and trend websites is Kadaza. It’s a collection of the best sites in many different categories. Click on any of the categories and you will find websites in that niche.
For example, I found The Gadget Flow through Kadaza, and by subscribing to their newsletter I get weekly updates on trendy items that may not even be on Amazon yet. Let’s take a look at an example:
One time I received this email from The Gadget Flow:
When I opened the email there were a lot of products that are currently on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter. But you know what? If it’s only on Kickstarter now, it means it isn’t on Amazon yet. You can take the product idea and even improve on it. I looked at the first product that caught my attention (lots of other good ideas too in that email):
After clicking on the link I found that the company is based in Denmark and they funded their product “Sitpack” successfully on Kickstarter.
Just a quick search on Alibaba.com and I immediately found a supplier:
As you can see the supplier either stole the pictures, or they are the actual producer for this company. I suspect it is the the former but it’s possible they are the sole manufacturer.
Then I went to Amazon and found that there is only one seller, Sitpack themselves. They are selling the product for $149! But look at the listing, there is so much to improve!
I am pretty sure that this product would not cost more than $10 to manufacture. Wow, what a margin!
Anyway, the point I want to get across is not to copy these companies, but to find ideas on blog sites and see how quick it is to buy from Alibaba or Global Sources. Add an accessory, change colors or do whatever you feel could improve the product. The best thing about subscribing to these sites is that you get ideas delivered for free to your email address.
One of my favorite and most efficient way to find new private label products is at trade shows.
There are hundreds of trade shows each year in many countries. You get to meet the supplier, see the products, and talk over details such as prices, models, and much more. On top of all of that I guarantee you that you will get inspired.
To find local trade shows just Google an exhibition center near you, then browse their upcoming events and apply for a ticket. You might need to provide a business card and contact details, but you can order cards online for a few dollars these days. Going to a show prepared and with a professional image gives suppliers a great impression of you.
There are countless trade shows around Asia throughout the year but mostly during April and October. Here is Global Sources’ trade show calendar.
Danny McMillan wrote a great post about his visit to the Canton Fair and other shows earlier this year. I had the pleasure of meeting Danny in Hong Kong during his visit.
Supermarkets, shopping malls
Another way to find new products is simply when you are out in a shopping mall or a local store.
To start your own import business means that you also working when you are out shopping with friends or family! Keep your eyes open, and when you see something cool make a reminder for yourself on your smartphone to look the product up later.
You may have heard of Jungle Scout already. Jungle Scout is probably the most advanced tool when it comes to navigating Amazon and finding bestselling products. It integrates into the Google Chrome browser to streamline product research. Jungle Scout can extract sales rank, sales volume, FBA fees, categories and more. From what I hear, it will soon also be available for the German market.
I’ve met Jungle Scout’s founder Greg Mercer a couple of times. He is a really cool and down-to-earth guy who seems to work purely for the seller community. Check out his blog where you can get many product ideas even if you don’t use the tool.
In January this year I was contacted by Antoni Watts, the founder of CashCowPro. I looked into his tool and was impressed by how comprehensive it was for Amazon selling metrics and insights on how to boost sales. From all the tools out there I think it’s my favorite for tracking sales and testing features.
CashCowPro also comes with an iPhone and Android app. Within the tool there is a top 100,000 niche selector. They have actually scanned over 100 million products and ASINs on Amazon to create this list. They automatically calculate the factory cost and freight cost, to find the most profitable niches on Amazon.
Note that this isn’t a list of products but actual niches, using the average of the top 5 ranking products for each niche to calculate the overall performance. The tool has many other functions that you can hear Antoni talk through here.
Traveling is also a great way to find ideas. When you are out of your country or state you are likely to see items that you can’t find locally. There are many reasons why a product might not be available where you live, but it’s always worth checking an idea out.
I remember about ten years ago, a friend told me about Bubble Tea and Fancy Green Tea drinks sold in Hong Kong and Asia. She was from Germany and she had never seen these drinks back home. She didn’t pursue that idea but a few years later back in Germany these drinks started to pop up and were a smash hit!
Even an idea that at first seems like nothing could be worth millions! Share it with a few friends and brainstorm it.
Alibaba and Global Sources
When you sign up on Alibaba you generally need to say which product categories you are interested in. Based on this criteria, and your recent product searches on Alibaba, you’ll get automated emails with new product deals.
You can also subscribe to their selection site where they post a lot of the newest and trendiest items from their suppliers.
It’s pretty similar with Global Sources. After signing up you’ll get automated emails with great product deals.
They also have a section with the best deals and newest products in every product category: Top Products. But my favorite part is their Sourcing Magazines that are updated on a monthly basis with the hottest and newest products on the site.
There are so many ways to find private label products, that I’ve really just given you a taster here.
Even if you are already familiar with some of the sources above, I hope you’ve still found something new to help you to find your next product. For a different take on it take a look at How to find the “perfect product”, a guest post on my own blog by Thomas Albiez from Switzerland.
One thing I can definitely recommend for everyone is to visit some of the trade shows in Asia. I feel it is just the most efficient way to find products. It may not be cheap to come here but I can guarantee it’s worth it. A plane ticket and a few nights at a cheap hotel starts at around $1,500. But you’ll see suppliers, products and samples in the flesh, saving you a lot of money and time in the process. Here are my impressions from trade shows I visited in October last year and April this year.
I hope you have enjoyed this post and that I have given you a little bit of inspiration to find your private label product!
All the best and happy sourcing,
You can read more from Manuel at Import Dojo.