Selling imported goods within the U.S. can be a lucrative business opportunity. High demand imported products such as artisan crafts, furniture and even food and beverage products such as olive oils, wine, etc. represent a significant market opportunity for savvy business owners. Margins of up to 700% can be lucrative indeed.
If you are interested in importing and selling overseas goods into the U.S. market - whether you are actually based in the U.S. or not - you will need to do your research regarding both the country of export and the country of import (the United States).
Here are some business and regulatory tips to guide you through the process of selling imported goods in the U.S.
Before you Do Anything - Check Import Rejection Laws and Trade Barriers
In addition to determining the market opportunity for a particular product or range of imported products, be sure to check U.S. trade barriers and local in-country laws to be certain that you can actually export your chosen goods out of the country of origin into the U.S.
While the U.S. is very import friendly, it does have stringent safety and quality controls that don't exist outside its borders. Likewise, foreign nations sometimes restrict the export of religious ornaments, rare or protected goods. For example, certain animal by-products such as furs and ivory as well as fake designer goods are banned or are governed by export restrictions.
Read about import goods rejections and trade barriers on Export.gov here. If you wish to import or sell agricultural products into the U.S., the Food Safety and Inspection Service provides a checklist and other information to help you comply with the laws that govern the import of meat, poultry and egg products.
For more information about trade agreements, refer to this guide on Business.gov.
Formally Set up Your Own Business
Consider formalizing your business entity before you start pursuing importing opportunities and engage in any regulatory practices. Read these 10 Steps to Starting a Business for a step-by-step guide to the planning, financial and legal steps involved in starting a business.
If you are a foreign national and plan to import and do business in the U.S., read Starting a Business in the U.S. as a Foreign National for guidance on tax and legal obligations.
Build Relationships and Network on the Ground in the Export Country
As with all wholesale procurement, you will want to meet and greet with the producer or distributor of the product(s) you will be selling. Try to establish whether the company you are dealing with has export experience, and request references. Refer to these resources for Doing Business Abroad to ensure your business travel is well planned.
Consider Hiring a Customs Broker
Many people who are in the business of importing goods into the U.S. choose to utilize a customs broker to help facilitate the laws and regulations that apply to your business, including licenses, taxes, duty fees, etc. A customs broker prepares all the documentation needed for importing goods, just as a freight forwarder does for exporters. You can read more about customs brokers here. You can also search for a certified customs broker at the *National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America.
Check Whether you Require a License or Permit to Import Certain Goods
Many imported and exported products are regulated by federal agencies. If you import or export any of the types of products listed by the government here, you may be required to obtain specific licenses and permits or complete additional paperwork (the link also provides information on how to get the appropriate licenses and permits). A customs broker can also help with this aspect of importing goods.
Selling Imported Goods - Retail and Distribution Options
How will you sell your imported wares? There are a number of options from re-selling your products to niche independent stores to selling direct at fairs, festivals and markets (get tips on starting and operating a concession stand in these two posts - part 1 and part 2). You can also set up your own retail store. Read How to Start a Retail Business - A Step-by-Step Guide for more information.
Online retailing or "e-tailing" is a useful option if you happen to be based outside the U.S. and wish to sell to the U.S. market. But be sure to set up your site using a U.S. domain and host it on a U.S server. Read Starting and Growing an Online Business: An Entrepreneur's Checklist for tips about starting an online business operation.
Small Business Import/Export Guide from Business.gov - Essential information from across government on what you need to know about importing and exporting.
Export.gov - Export.gov brings together resources from across the U.S. Government to assist American businesses in planning their international sales strategies and succeed in today's global marketplace.
*Festival Network Online - Information on buying and selling imported goods at craft shows and fairs across the country. Search events and more.
*Note: Link directs reader to non-government Web site.