A few months ago we were expanding our line of Slice ceramic blades and we needed a factory that could do injection molding for us.
We had some specific requirements. And of course we needed everything last week.
I had a few options.
I could leaf through yellowed supplier catalogs--but each catalog would be from a different company, filled with thousands of products I didn't want. How could I find the company that offered the services I needed?
Or I could hop on a plane to China and spend two weeks away from the office and family.
My son has autism. I started Slice to fund long-term care for him. Day-to-day living is a challenge for our family. I purposely built our business less than a mile from our home so that I'm just a text away if needed. Traveling to the other side of the planet and being away from home for two weeks at a time is not an option for us.
Thankfully online sourcing is an option--and it's been great for us. When I was searching for injection factories, I looked on Alibaba.com and came up with hundreds of possibilities. We quickly narrowed it down to three or four, and then chose one.
With online sourcing, I can find what I need on my laptop, phone or tablet with just a few clicks. And it's a lot easier than dealing with TSA.
As our business has expanded, here are seven reasons online sourcing has worked for us:
1. Time: When you need something, you usually need it immediately. You don't always have time to plan a trip or travel halfway around the world. With online sourcing, you sit in front of your computer, open up a new tab, and in five seconds you're scrolling through possibilities.
2. Time away: With online sourcing--whether for products or personnel--you don't need to spend days or weeks away from the office and your family. Depending on the portal you use, you can usually find what you need in one sitting. A few months ago we needed data entry personnel; we found them online quickly and easily.
3. Time zones: Because of my son's challenges, our sleeping and waking hours are often all over the map. If I'm up at 3 a.m. and have a brilliant idea, I don't have to wait until the morning to look for a part--or wait for 9 a.m. in another part of the world. With online portals, there are no time zones.
4. Where to look: You may not know where to look for what you need, but an online portal that showcases thousands of suppliers at once does. Type in what you want and voila, possibilities. Depending on the portal you use, you can specify exactly what you're looking for, thus eliminating distracting products that don't fit your requirements.
5. Know-how: You may think you're looking for one thing, but when you can quickly scan pages of possible products, it might trigger ideas that will expand your options and maybe even change what you planned to produce in the first place.
6. Budget: The cost of overseas travel to source products: $5,000 to $10,000. The cost of sitting in front of your computer: Nothing. The joy you'll bring to your accountant: Priceless.
7. Vetting: You want to know more about the companies you're considering sourcing from. They're on the other side of the world. Sure the price is good but will they deliver? Has anyone ever heard of them? Used them? Used them again? Just like buying a pair of shoes from Zappos, online sourcing portals offer you the option to read the reviews of other buyers. That makes a huge difference when you're sourcing online. You're not blindly choosing a company but instead picking one that others have already tried out for you.
You can do more on your computer looking in 2 minutes than you can in 2 weeks in China, depending on portals you use.
People used to call me the product guy. "Hey, TJ, where do I find ____ (fill in the blank)?" Now I just tell them to source online. It's made their life easier (and mine).
Follow T.J. Scimone on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@slicetweets