Finding a good supplier can be tough within the supplement industry. There are so many options and many services on offer; white label, private label, custom formulation, contract manufacturing etc. It can be difficult to know where to start and what to look out for when navigating through the minefield that makes up the health industry. Having experience in both the retail and supply side; I have laid out this guide to help you find the perfect supplier, as well as some very important do’s and don’ts that will come in handy in your pursuit.

First we will look at the most important question of all:

What makes a good supplier?

When starting a supplement line, it can be very easy to be swayed solely by cost. It is also very easy for me to say that this is an immediate ‘don’t’, but with limited cash a defining part of starting a new business or range, it is difficult to ignore. I would say that it should be an important determining factor but certainly not the only one that you base your decision on. The aspects outlined below should also be strongly considered when searching for a company to use:

  • MOQ’s; Ideally you will want to start low in order to test the market and reduce outlay.
  • Flexibility; Do they offer flexibility with packaging, components and shipping?
  • Payment terms; Can they help with your cash flow or do they require Pro Forma?
  • Communication; Are they responsive or are you having to wait a week for a reply to an email?
  • Reputability; Do their manufacturing facilities hold certificates and accreditations, such as GMP, ISO, SALSA, BRC etc.?
  • Helpfulness; Are they willing to go above and beyond to help you with enquiries, formulations and advice?
  • Lead times; Do these fit with your business model? Typically for custom formulations a 7-8 week lead time is good; a 12 week lead time can be tough to manage.
  • Services; What is the full list of services that they offer? Some perks are worth their weight in gold here.

If you base your decision on a variety of the above, as well as cost, then you are unlikely to go wrong.

Now that you know what to look for, it is about reaching out to different suppliers in order to then make an informed decision. The most important thing to think about here is that suppliers will be getting 10’s, sometimes even 100’s of enquiries everyday; you must be concise and prepared with the information you provide and questions that you ask. You must choose your words very carefully if you are hoping for a high response rate when conducting your enquiries. I would suggest no more than 100 words and no more than 2 or 3 initial questions. This should leave you in good stead to gain a response.

Begin by looking through supplier websites; you can get a very good idea of many of the above factors to consider when choosing a supplier, simply by doing this. Narrow your options down to 5-8 suppliers that you see as a good fit for your business.

From here, send each supplier a personalised message. The main body of text or standout information can be the same, but it is very easy for a supplier to know when they have been sent an email that has likely gone to 20 other suppliers and they may well choose to not waste their time in replying.

Always come armed with information.

Being both a retailer and supplier myself, there is nothing worse than when a customer sends an enquiry saying that they ‘want a magnesium supplement’, with no reference to the form of magnesium, the mg, the capsule count, the packaging. Most suppliers won’t waste their time on these kinds of enquiries. Conduct research so that you know your exact formulation, specification and componentry requirements. I would also advise giving a one or two line sentence about your background. For example:

I have been running my own fitness business for the last 9 years. I’m now moving online and having looked at different opportunities, I have decided to proceed with this. I’m looking to build and develop a long term business and not just to make a quick buck’.

This shows an element of seriousness and personability as opposed to so many enquiries that do not.

Another important truth – Don’t ask too many questions to the point that suppliers may get frustrated. There is a very fine line between gathering all the information that you require and coming across as someone who is ‘tyre kicking’. It is essential that you respect the suppliers time; if you do this, it will be reflected in the quotes and service that you receive.

Finally, when you have chosen the right supplier for your business, stick with them and begin building a relationship. A good supplier relationship can be worth its weight in gold. Once you have made your initial order or orders, you now have a lot more leverage. Communication should still be used sparingly and appropriately; however, you are now a customer and can demand more time than those who are just simply an enquiry – You should use it wisely in these instances; many suppliers are more than happy to go above and beyond in helping you, as long as you are reciprocating the motion, in respecting their time. The whole process is about being mindful and playing the long game.