The first and most vital step in any sourcing process is identifying potential suppliers.
Finding suppliers in low-cost countries, such as India, has become much simpler. As recently as 20 years ago, for finding domestic US suppliers one had to rely on a Rolodex and the familiar sight of bookshelves lined with the green hardcover Thomas Directories. For finding international suppliers, the task was downright foreboding. Those methods then gave way to jockeying with numerous CDs and desktop computer searches. (Remember the serial port key that had to be in place to access the data?)
Today, the information contained in those green directories combined, and more is now available in the palm of your hand. For international sourcing, search engines like Google, Safari, DuckDuck Go, Bing, etc. along with sourcing specific sites such as Alibaba, Trade India, etc. have made the process of finding suppliers so much simpler and more effective than the Rolodex days.
Yet, every silver lining seems to attract its gray cloud! The benefits of the power and speed of a computer are weighed down by the teeming abundance of information. The volume of data, information, and companies coming online daily, is mind-numbing. Parsing through all this information is a daunting task. Getting ready to search on a computer or smart-phone is probably no less overwhelming today than it was staring at the green directories lining those shelves. Such is life today! We just have to adapt and get smarter at how we approach our searches.
Here is a simple tip to help someone who is looking for suppliers in India: Think clusters! No – No – not the detrimental type associated with a certain four-letter word, but one that has its roots in the historical development of India.
“A cluster is defined as a geographic concentration (a city/town/few adjacent villages and their adjoining areas) of units (household/factory) producing near similar products and facing common opportunities and threats. In a typical cluster, such producers often belong to a traditional community, producing the long-established products for generations.” (Artisan Clusters, Sarkar and Banerjee, Foundation for MSME Clusters, New Delhi) (Note – the author of that article, though sharing the same last name as mine, has no relationship to me whatsoever.)
Civilization in India has been around for millenniums. What one sees today in the manufacturing landscape of India has been emerging over several hundred centuries. Yes, centuries! Approaching a search for an effective supplier in India with this perspective and a healthy respect for that history is beneficial. Having some knowledge and appreciation of this historical development of Indian crafts, artisanship, guilds and then eventually the modern industrial-age factories, can do wonders to the quality of the search results. Here are some examples to illustrate this fact.
The city of Kanpur and adjoining regions is now renowned for its concentration of leather footwear manufacturers. The origins of this can be traced back to 1778, relatively early in the British political and military dominance in India, when an East India Company platoon was stationed there. (If you enjoy Bollywood movies, then Mangal Pandey: The Rising (2005) and Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi (2019, available on Netflix), will give you a thrilling insight into that period. I digress….. Coming back to what I was saying earlier. With the platoon stationed at Kanpur, there was a high demand for military footwear, saddlery, and harnesses. This led to the concentration of high-quality leather goods in Kanpur and the state in which it is located, Uttar Pradesh. The figure below shows the leather clusters in India. You can see the concentration of clusters centered around Kanpur.