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I am a manufacturer of jute and leather apparel products. We want to expand our business to Brazil and Ukraine, but I have been browsing the Internet for days and I cannot find the addresses of buyers. Would you please help me? —M.A., Dhaka, Bangladesh
The Internet is great for finding suppliers around the globe, says Ben Walters, founder of Ospop, a Shanghai-based shoe exporter. But “for finding buyers, you’ve got to hit their turf.”
Along with going on sales trips, he recommends that you try attending trade shows. “Find the most appropriate one, pick the brains of the organizers, and get on a plane,” he says. Although they can be hectic and exhausting, trade shows bring many of your potential buyers—not to mention suppliers and competitors—together in one place. Even if you can connect personally with just a few of them, you’ll have a jump start on relationships when you do make those sales trips.
There are several international apparel and fashion websites that list trade shows around the world. One of them, Fibre2Fashion, has a searchable database where you can search for events by country, date, and fashion category.
Another route is to look for help from a local or federal trade organization in your country or from an apparel industry trade group, suggests Kerry Bonner, who helps small U.S. businesses get into exporting as a project manager at a Center for International Trade Development in California. “They may have a list or database of buyers of your type of products,” she says.
Online you can enter information about your apparel items at HSCode.org and get their international commodity classifications for your specific products, Bonner says. Those commodity codes will allow you to use the PIERS database to identify a good deal of very specific information about the market for your products. That information can help you focus your international sales efforts strategically.
PIERS collects data on international waterborne trade activity and provides information to its subscribers globally. They charge a fee for their service and sell their online directories, which typically run between $500 and $1,000. But their website offers a free trial period that you might make good use of to get started.
The database can tell an exporter where goods are being transported to and from; who is buying and selling specific commodities, and how much is being traded; and which shipping lines, ports, and trade lanes are being used. Customers use the data to get sales leads, find new buyers, analyze market trends, and learn what their competitors are buying and selling, according to the company.