|Buying/purchasing: Where do I find raw materials and equipment?
This sheet deals with the problem of where you find the supplies - machinery, equipment, vehicles, workstations, and shelving, for example - to set up or run your business.
Finding the right equipment can be a problem if you are new to the industry. If you already have a business, it also makes sense to do research into the most suitable product and the latest technology, before investing your capital.
Shopping around does not only mean looking for the best price. It also allows you to increase your technical awareness of different products and their specifications. Say, for example, you phone a supplier of industrial toasters and they quote you on two products: one at R3,000 and one at R5,000. Ask them about the difference between the two - what features does the more expensive one have? Ask yourself if you need these features. Now, when you phone another supplier for a quote, you could ask them if this product has the features you were interested in.
Suppliers will also have an opinion about which features are best. If you listen through the sales talk, you will get an idea of the range of products available and learn more about different features and functions. Then you can decide which product would be the most suitable and represents the best value for money.
Where do I start looking?
Other business owners
The best person to point you in the right direction is another business owner in a similar business. They will have a good feel for the product specifications needed for a particular purpose, of suppliers you can trust and what you can expect to pay. At the very least, they will be able to direct you to someone else who can help you. But how do you approach another business owner, who is probably extremely busy and has a hundred other things on his or her mind, and get them to stop and talk to you, who might be a potential competitor? Here are a few tips to help you approach other business owners in the right way:
- You will be surprised how many business owners out there are happy to help. They have all been through the same process and understand the value of informal networks amongst business owners. You might come across a few who are truly cagey and unwilling to share information, more so in some industries, but just keep trying until you find those willing to talk to you. They will be worth gold.
- It might help if you approach people who are not or will not be your direct competitors - for example, a similar business to yours, but in a different geographical area.
- Throw your net wide. You will have to take the initiative here. Don't wait for a particular business owner to become available or return your message. Move on to the next person on your list. You can always come back to the first one later.
- When you phone a business owner you have a 50/50 chance of getting a good response. It depends on a combination of things: the mood of the business owner, whether you have caught him or her at a bad time, and the way you come across over the phone. Never take it too personally. As you phone around, you will find an approach that works well for you.
- In most cases a short and to-the-point approach works best. If you want to know something fairly straightforward, introduce yourself very briefly and just ask: "I run a bed and breakfast/am starting a bed and breakfast in Cape Town. Do you know where I can find an industrial size toaster?" You don't have to start with "Can I ask you a few questions?", or "Could I have a few moments of your time?" If they think about it, they might decide that they do not have the time!
- If you need to have a longer discussion, you can try to make an appointment. Some people will manage this better than others. If you do manage this, then stick firmly to the time you said you would need. If you can not succeed in making an appointment, try the ambush approach - ask your question right there and then. "What do you think the best toaster is to get for my size of business?" Normally, you will get a valuable response. Often, once a business owner starts talking, it is quite difficult to make them stop!
- Start networking. If you join the industry's business association, you will meet other business owners face-to-face in a relaxed environment. Here, it will be much easier to pick their brains. Many of the business associations have their own websites on which suppliers advertise.
- The Yellow Pages is a directory of contact numbers for businesses and professions in a particular area.
- The businesses are arranged according to categories, for example, "Amplifiers", "Crates", "Refrigeration". It is sometimes tricky to find the exact category for the type of product or service that you need. It is useful to take a look at the index first to see what categories there are.
- The advantage of the Yellow Pages is that all businesses in a specific area get one free listing in the Yellow Pages, so it is quite comprehensive. Be aware, however, that they have to choose in which language they want their free listing to be, so you might find some businesses in the Afrikaans section that do not appear in the English section and vice versa.
- You are entitled to a free copy of your area's Yellow Pages if you are a Telkom subscriber. It normally comes as part of your telephone directory, but in larger areas like the Cape Peninsula, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban, the Yellow Pages come as a separate volume. A new updated version comes out once a year.
- If you want the Yellow Pages of a different area than the one you live in, phone 0860 111 837.
- The Yellow Pages also has an electronic version at http://www.yellowpages.co.za
- The electronic version is simply the same as the publication - it works according to categories, not keywords. If you type in "toaster" in the search box, you will not get a listing, but perhaps you would get a listing if you type in the category "Electrical Appliances."
The internet has become a valuable tool for finding suppliers of even the most obscure articles. You have to learn how to streamline your searches so that you do waste too much time and money on the internet.
- Use a search engine. This is a tool on the internet that allows you to type in keywords. It will then give you a list of websites that contain these keywords. You can click on the links to these sights for more details.
- Use South African search engines - you can then choose to view only South African websites. It is no good finding a product only to find it is sold in England or the USA. Here are some good South African search engines to tr:
We found this the best search engine to source business supplies. This is mainly because they have a category in their directory called "business to business". If you click on that, you can do searches with keywords that will only bring up websites of other businesses, so you do not get links to news articles, or other non-relevant websites.
A very good feature here is that you can narrow down your search results quite effectively, by doing a further keyword search within your results. They also have a directory (i.e. a list of categories), but your search is more limited here, because they do not have a business-to-business category and it is difficult to assess which other category in the directory matches your query. The best way to use this site is to do a keyword search that searches all South African sites.
This site provides you with good tips on how to search using a search engine. It is very similar to aardvark in all other respects.
Your business association
Most industries have business associations that have regular meetings, newsletters and websites containing information important to that industry. You can contact other business owners through these associations. Many suppliers also advertise in these newsletters and websites.