Thailand is a great country to source products, be it clothes, handicrafts, or food items.
With so many markets and goods way cheaper than back home, at some point in time the thought of importing products from Thailand to your home country crosses the mind of every expat and holiday maker.
Whether shipping containers of fisherman's pants to sell to stores (wholesale) back home, or selling Thai exports like t-shirts, silver jewelry or gems on eBay, it is a tempting idea considering the low wholesale prices.
But wait. Before you rush in and lose your life savings, there are a number of things you should consider.
Always remember the golden rule: if it was that easy everyone would be getting rich doing it. As with all feats of success in life, careful planning and due diligence are essential.
The 5 Golden Rules of Importing/Exporting from Thailand
Rule 1. Assess the Market: Create a Spreadsheet
The first problem people encounter when choosing a product is choice. In short: what should I sell?
It is easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of products to choose from, and a quick visit to Chatuchak market in Bangkok, or the Walking Street markets of Chiang Mai, will have your head spinning with potential ideas.
Settling on one sure idea that will strike gold is difficult. And this where you need to use your smarts, otherwise you'll end up thinking a lot and not doing very much. This is called ‘analysis/action paralysis'.
The golden rule is not to dive in. Give yourself time to truly assess the market, the options and the potential profit margins.
Draw up an excel sheet and make a shortlist of your ideas with comments in one column by each one. Make columns for other considerations such as breakage potential, shipping viability, existing supply and demand, and longevity (shelf-life).
The reason I suggest drawing up a spreadsheet is because it is much easier to assess the viability of an idea when it is written down on paper and compared with other ideas.
Once you have five or ten product ideas and columns listing the key considerations you will quickly be able to eliminate ideas initially we thought were great but clearly fall down in terms of profit margin or shipping problems.
This might sound like a very obvious thing to do but most people just don't. Instead, they get fixated on one product and go headfirst into ordering and shipping it back home without considering the potential pitfalls of that product.
Rule 2. Research Customs & Excise Back Home
Again, this is one of those seemingly obvious points, but then why do so many people do this research at the last minute once they have already placed their order?
It may well be the case that the product you intend to import to your home country is restricted, or at least restricted in some way.
It may have an extra tariff on it that drives up the price to the point where your business venture won't be profitable.
Something else that happens to so many people who start up importing is they forget to factor in the customs duty that will be paid when they receive the item in their home country.
Importing from Thailand generally isn't a problem. In fact, most manufacturers will take care of the shipping arrangements for you. Factories and export companies usually have shipping partners that they deal with on a regular basis.
What you need to make sure is that you understand what is required by you from the regulations in your home country.
Rule 3. Think Outside the “eBay Box”
Since a kid I've always been a wheeler and dealer. I've always loved selling things. It's not all about big profits either – just the thrill of making a buck.
Inevitably, when eBay became a big thing back in the early 2000s I became a part-time eBay seller, which always made for a nice little sideline income.
And when I moved to Thailand, naturally my brain's cogs started turning over what potentially could be sold across seas.
Initially I tried a few things like crafts and clothes, but never with much luck. Admittedly though I never really pursued anything to the point where I could rule it out as an absolute no-go.
But I'd been used to selling things back in the UK which were in demand and of high value, and therefore sold quite easily. The things I tried to sell from Thailand were with low margins and not in huge demand.
One huge barrier was posting from Thailand: the moment people see it coming from a foreign address they worry about quality and scams, especially coming from SE Asia.
Also, with clothes (women's) and jewelry, there are so many Chinese sellers selling for seemingly no profit at all it makes it impossible to compete.
That being said, I have met a few people making good money on eBay from Thailand. One guy ships suits back home, another buys and sells jackets, another prints t-shirts (making loads), and another sells meditation products.
Also note that since my experiments the Amazon marketplace has opened up too, not to mention Etsy. There are other platforms now.
my opinion is that you may also benefit from selling directly through your own website. Finding a product and building a brand around it gives it a personal touch and the perception that it is high quality than other similar products found on marketplaces.
In a nutshell: I'm not saying that you cannot be successful on eBay, but don't let this limit your potential. Think beyond eBay and how you might build a sustainable business, which leads me onto my next point.
Rule 4. Consider Wholesale Your Long-Term Goal
I once dated a woman whose father was in the imports business. He used to import parts for machinery and machines, cars, etc.
The genius thing about what he was doing was that the majority of orders were for 1,000 or more parts at a time. So let's just say someone was building a 20,000 of a particular tool and they needed a particular part like a nut of screw.
He might only make 25p per part, but the quantity he ordered meant he was absolutely raking it in. He told me that he would occasionally make £20,000 per order.
If he only fulfilled one order per month, that is still £240,000 turnover a year. He had a small office and only employed one person, and that was his son.
It will always be more profitable to fulfill wholesale orders to companies who then sell on to their customers there for you to sell individual items on a marketplace such as eBay or Amazon.
If you are looking to make a little bit of money in addition to your main income, or perhaps you're looking for something for your partner to start up as a business to be run from home, then selling items one by one online might not be a bad choice. You can also sell in local marketplaces or pop-up shops.
But if you want to make real money in the long term then wholesale has to be at the forefront of your mind. You want to be shipping in a container of product and delivering it directly to client who pays you immediately for the lot.
Opportunities like that of my ex-girlfriend's father in the example above are out there. Identifying them is not easy, and the pathway to finding them is never going to be a smooth one.
It takes trial and error, but like anything in life those who stick at something and stay committed and work on it every day until they get it right are the ones who succeed.
Rule 5. Go Direct to the Wholesaler/Factory in Thailand
It is tempting to buy goods from marketplaces. You can get some very good deals for bulk items at popular Thai markets such as Pratunam, Chatujak, etc.
But it goes without saying that the traders at these markets are not selling it to you for the price they are getting for, unless they have discounted something to be a lost leader.
Of course, the market trader will be more than happy to sell you a bulk amount of goods because they will want to offload the stock and be able to purchase new stock. The bane of every market trader is cash flow: when you're holding a lot of stock you haven't got cash to buy new stock.
In this regard they aren't likely to give up their source supplier.
If you use your smarts and remain friendly and chatty, and politely offer to give them a tip for giving you the name of their factory supplier, it shouldn't be too difficult to leave the marketplace with a name.
Of course you can go online and Google around for manufacturers of products you are looking for, but references are always good and quite often you won't find a lot of the companies because their websites are in Thai.
Endeavor to get as close to the source as possible. You will save yourself a lot of money.
You will also benefit from the fact that a factory or an export company will be able to advise on shipping options and of course package everything up properly and make sure it gets to you on time and in one piece.
Rule 6. Do Your Due Diligence on Thai Companies
Due diligence is the investigation or exercise of care that a reasonable business or person is expected to take before entering into an agreement or contract with another party.
This is not just about doing business in Thailand but goes for anywhere in the world, including your home country.
I have heard from a few people over the years who have lost money doing business in Thailand. It is not uncommon, and indeed not uncommon all over the world.
But don't let that put you off doing importing good from Thailand. Simply make sure you do your due diligence.
As with Golden Rule 1 where I recommend that you make a spreadsheet of your product ideas and their considerations to help you eliminate the bad ones and find the best one, now you should make a list of all the things that you need to find out about company before you start doing business.
Here's how you can make a start:
- Check out the website: Does the website use the HTTPs security protocol in the URL bar. This is always a sign that a business keeps its website up to date and is concerned for the security of its clients and those visiting its website in general. You will notice that TheThailandLife does use the HTTPS protocol. Admittedly, some companies who don't update the website or don't need to pay much attention to their website because they don't do a lot of business through it may not have implemented this, but is usually the first thing I look for.
- Vet the contact details: Go to the contact details section of the website and see if they have given their full address and phone number. In this day and age we tend to make enquiries by email and even complete entire transactions over email. But this makes it much easier for fraudulent businesses to communicate. So instead give them a ring. Register your interest and ask if they can send details of their company and their price list. Do a Google Maps search on their address and make sure that the address exists. And if you are in Thailand, pay the address a visit and make sure it is a functional place of business.
- Research their clients: Have a look over the website and see if they have a list of clients that they do business with. You may recognise some of them from Thailand, or indeed from overseas. This will be a good indication of their reputation. You may even choose to call one of these companies or email them and ask whether they been happy with the service they have received.
- Request the registered company number: Every company in Thailand has one. You can request copy of their company certificate by email too. In fact, providing a copy of your company certificate is a general requirement in Thailand when doing business with other businesses and indeed when dealing with banks and lawyers, etc.
- Check the government business database: You can research information on a company in Thailand by using the government database. Start here.
Don't be shy about asking for more information and thoroughly vetting a company. Any good business, Thai culture aside, will understand your concerns and want to put your mind at ease.
Rule 7. Test Purchase Before Committing Big Money
Do not make the mistake of placing a big order without testing the funnel first. Make sure the chain of supply works by placing a small order for an amount of money you can afford to lose.
This will also be your final due diligence to see if the supplier can deliver on their promise.
If it all goes smoothly, you're onto a winning supply chain.
How to Find a Reliable Supplier in Thailand
Finding suppliers of goods in Thailand is so much more difficult than it should be. The one thing Thailand still lacks is a good website with a database to browse.
And so I decided to do it myself.
=> You can now download the 2019 TTL Thai Exporters Directory by clicking here.
Another starting point I highly recommend is Tomas Belcik's Import Guide, which is a comprehensive book that gives you step-by-step instructions of the entire process of the import/export business: where to source, how to negotiate, how to ship, how to assess the competition and much more.
For the record Tomas Belcik is an importer, wholesaler and retailer of products from South and Southeast Asia, China, Africa, Latin America and Europe for some 35 years. His experience is really valuable. I got a hell of a lot from his book and I'm sure you will too.
Golden Rules Recap Summary:
So let's just run through these Golden Rules quickly again:
- Don't go in all guns blazing. Be methodical and organised. Assess the market and create a ‘Product Ideas' spreadsheet to start your search.
- Research the customs and excise rules in your home country.
- Think ‘outside the eBay box' and consider other marketplaces and places to sell. Also consider building a brand.
- Consider your long-term strategy. If you're aiming to make a full-time living this is most likely going to be through a wholesale business.
- Go direct to the factory/wholesaler in Thailand and bypass markets. Get the best price possible.
- Do your due diligence on Thai companies before committing time and money.
- Make a small test purchase before committing to a big money order.
- Download my Thai exporters directory
- Buy Tomas Belcik's book – it's a blueprint for success.
It is definitely possible to sustain a good living exporting goods from Thailand. There are thousands of people doing it successfully. But the reality is that most won't tell you what they're exporting, who they buy from and where they sell to.
The fact is, like any business, you have to put in the planning and research and initial hard work to ensure long-term profitability.
Please Note: If you are an exporter, do not leave your contact details in the comments section, they will be deleted. Instead, click here to find out what details you need to submit to make it into my directory.