At some point in time, the thought of importing products from Thailand, or exporting goods while in Thailand and selling them back home, crosses the mind of every expat and holiday maker.
Whether shipping containers of handicrafts to shops back home, or selling Thai exports on eBay, it is a tempting business considering the low prices you can buy goods for in markets and direct from factories.
But before you rush in and lose your life savings, there's a number of things you should consider…
1. Assess the Market & Make a Shortlist
The first problem people encounter when choosing a niche is choice. It's 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 paralysis'.
The key is not to dive in. Give yourself time to truly assess the market, the options and the potential profit margins. Make a shortlist of your ideas with comments by each one. In the comments section consider shipping, breakage, existing supply and demand and longevity (shelf-life).
2. Be Careful Selling Thai Goods on eBay
Since a kid I've always been a wheeler and dealer. I've always loved selling things. It's not all about the profit either – just the thrill of making a buck. Inevitably I became an eBay seller back in the UK, 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, although I never really pursued anything for long enough to really have the data to make a judgement. That said, I think the main issues with lack of success was the posting from Thailand – the moment people see it's coming from a foreign address they worry about quality and scams, especially coming from SE Asia.
Also, with clothes (women's), there are so many people from China selling clothes for pennies that you just can't compete from Thailand.
I could be wrong though, because since these efforts, 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.
What I learnt from speaking to these people exporting goods from Thailand is that finding products is the easy part, it's the securing a supplier that provides reliable delivery and consistent quality that presents a difficult obstacle.
3. My Personal Advice From Experience
After my first few eBay endeavours, I have since found a niche sideline through my supplier, and I am happy to say I am making a tidy profit each month. I'm not going to name the product I am exporting from Thailand, but I will say that I am supplying someone else in my home country rather than selling on eBay. Again, having the reliable supply chain made things so smooth, especially when it came to shipping.
The way I made this idea work was by finding the right supplier; someone with a proper registered business, who speaks English and delivers on time!
So if I had to offer one piece of great advice, I would say this: don't continue buying from markets indefinitely, instead make it your mission to find a reliable supplier who can sell to you in bulk at low prices. This will take the headache out of traipsing around markets in the heat trying to do deals on the fly and carrying heavy bags.
The fact is, in the long term, by the time you factor in shipping and customs tax, it just isn't worth buying from markets for export, even if it seems cheap at the time. At the time of writing, the pound and dollar are getting weaker against the Baht, and every cent counts. Going to the supplier will save you up to 70% of the market price.
4. The Difficulty of Finding a Reliable Supplier in Thailand
Finding suppliers of goods in Thailand is so much more difficult than it should be, but as of 2012 things are getting better as the economic boom demands better B2B relations. Still, one thing Thailand lacks is a good website with a database to browse.
And so I decided to do it myself. As of 2016 You can now download the 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, assessing the competition and much more.
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 it and I'm sure you will too.
5. Use Your Intuition & A 6-Step Checklist
I think the most important thing is to follow your intuition and not get caught between too many ideas. Hone in on one idea that ticks all the boxes and just go for it, rather than doing what I did to begin with, which was to half-heartedly attempt multiple avenues.
But before you decide on that one thing you must consider the following list:
1. Use your intuition; it's the best insight to success you've got. If something just doesn't feel right and you aren't sure, step back and reassess the situation. Don't go in all guns blazing. Be methodical and organised.
2. Choose a niche with a fairly high markup on each piece sold. Try to make at least a few dollars per item. That way, if you can shift say 500 hats a month, you will make a cool $1,500.
3. When making a shortlist of products, consider shipping logistics as a priority thought. Find something easy to ship and store.
4. Don't try competing with Chinese eBay sellers who will undercut you until you're making less than $1 per sale. Trust me; this is a losing game.
5. Make sure you research your target market and the competition befor jumping in at the deep end. Market research is everything. That's why you should read Thomas Belcik's' book.
6. Set aside a budget for not just stock but also marketing. Think about how you will get your product out there and potential avenues for selling.
It is definitely possible to sustain a good living exporting goods from Thailand. There are thousands of people doing it successfully and making bank. 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.
– Click here to download the TTL Thai Exporters Directory
– 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 and how.