If you build it, they will come.

How many of you have heard that before, and felt like your marketplace would be an online “Field of Dreams?”  A place where vendors would flock, customers would be plentiful, and sales were all but guaranteed?  And, how quickly did that vision come crashing down?

After almost three years running a traditional eCommerce site, I thought I had the customer following to easily entice vendors into signing on, so I started building my very first marketplace.  Little did I know the struggle vendor procurement would provide.

Once I got my site built, the next step was to roll in vendors.  I felt like I had an advantage, because I already had an online presence, a solid customer base, and about 200 products.  I wasn’t starting from scratch.  I could keep customer orders flowing, while I was getting vendors setup.  I thought a few Facebook posts, and a forum posts or two were all I needed, and I would be off to the races.  As it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong!

What I did learn was reliable vendors were actually harder to find than customers!  Vendors need to buy into the whole system, the advantage you are providing over (or in addition to) their current sales channels, and they have to feel like their time will be rewarded with new customers.  As a marketplace owner, you now have two classes of “customers.”  The first, your vendors.  They are paying you for your platform.  And the second, your vendor’s customers.  If they aren’t happy, they aren’t spending money with you.  And if they aren’t spending money with you, vendors will bail out pretty quick.  So, you will need a clear value proposition to present to your vendors, and once they bite, you have to really make sure you keep them hooked,  Keeping your vendors happy will help keep their customers happy, and that will keep you happy!  Like they say, what is good for the goose, is good for the gander, and in this case, your vendors are your goose!

So how do you go about finding these vendors?  That is the million dollar question, and will greatly depend on the type of marketplace you have created.  But, many times like minded people will find places to gather, and that tends to be the best areas to look for your new vendors:

Online: Most niches will have a section of the internet dedicated to them.  In my case, my market is based on outdoor gear.  So I would scour the online forums, facebook pages and online magazines, looking for companies I felt would make good vendors.  At first, I broke the vendors into small groups, and would modify my approach slightly based on the group, a sort of A/B testing, to see if I could at least get a response.  Most times my emails were met with silence, but as I continued, I slowly nailed down the approach that worked best for me.

Trade shows: Trade shows are very popular, and almost every product category has at least a few trade shows.  In my case, there are a plethora of trade shows that focus on outdoor gear.  The great thing about trade shows is the face to face contact you get.  It helps humanize you, and I found that people were far more receptive to face to face contact.  The only caution I would add is, be sure to go on a non-peak day, if possible.  When the vendor’s table is buzzing with customers, you will probably tick them off trying to sell them on your new marketplace.

Trade specific media: There is at least one magazine for everything, and I’m betting the focus of your marketplace has one too.  Many times these magazines will not only have a glossary of advertisers, but some will also include a trade glossary.  This makes for a great contact list for potential new vendors.

Finding vendors, and getting them onto your market, is the first major challenge any new marketplace faces.  It is also crucial to your success, because a market without vendors is not a market at all.  If you can nail down the vendors, you’ve scaled your first mountain on the way to a successful market.

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