The ultimate wholesale UK guide: who can buy from wholesalers and suppliers, and how?

Ready to buy wholesale but aren’t sure where or how to go about it? Here’s all you need to know.

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Ever wonder where companies get their products?

Maybe you have, maybe you haven’t, but one thing you should know is that when you do start taking an interest in how and where items are produced, the wholesale process tends to be shrouded in mystery – with business owners gatekeeping all the industry secrets and their resources in an attempt to prevent others from getting ahead.

Well, with us being in the midst of the pandemic, the Brexit struggles, and the current stresses of rising inflation and the cost of living crisis – we thought we’d help to make your life easier by busting all the secrets of the industry wide open for you today.

What is a wholesaler?

A wholesaler is a manufacturing or holding company that sell products for other companies to buy in bulk for discount rates, which they can then resell for profit.

What is a wholesaler / supplier business model?

Most businesses are middlemen.

While there are some bigger businesses that may have the funds to create all their own products and everything else they need in-house, this is extremely rare and a huge undertaking. Most definitely need to start from somewhere else – because let’s say, even if you have a team of seamstresses to create dresses for your business, there will still likely need to be an outsourcing system to obtain the fabrics, for example.

Every step of the production line has to come from somewhere, so this is where wholesale companies come in. They are your first port of call: where you go to purchase the products and resources you need to complete your product lines, then ultimately go on to sell to your consumers.

You can purchase most products to sell ‘as is’ and ready-made (such as simple T-shirts or candles for example), as this is the standard method of operation. But if you have a bit more money, you can use suppliers who tailor personalised items you can then use for better brand recognition. This is known as ‘white labelling’.


White labelling: When a manufacturer creates a ‘blank canvas’ line of products that companies can then rebrand with their logos and styling to make it appear as if they had been made in-house.

Wholesalers, suppliers and manufacturers: what’s the difference?

You could argue on semantics that:

Wholesalers: A company that sells goods in large quantities at low prices, typically to retailers.
Suppliers: A person or organization who manages the sales of the goods needed by retailers.
Manufacturers: A person or company that makes the goods.

However, for the purposes of this article, we will be referring to and treating them all as the same thing.

Why buy wholesale?

Here are some compelling reasons for buying wholesale:

  • Great price points and wide variety – Wholesalers tend to have lots of stock and lots of choices at undeniably good prices.
  • Brand familiarity – Wholesalers sell branded goods at a fraction of the cost, so you can stock up on the branded goods your customers want with a greater profit margin.
  • Personalisation, white-labelling, and your own empire – These days wholesalers are collaborating more and more with the dropshipping industry in that you can get your own supplies made. This would be excellent for those starting out and wanting to spearhead their own white-labelled brand.
  • Lower shipping, delivery or collection costs – Shipping, collection or delivery costs will be significantly reduced when you buy in bulk from one wholesaler (instead of multiple over longer periods of time).

Wholesale products are typically aimed at retailers, industry workers or those engaged in professional business. However, thinking that wholesalers will only trade with established, large businesses is a common misconception.

Myth buster:

You don’t need a shop to buy from a wholesaler, and there are no requirements or prerequisites to buy wholesale.

The reality is a lot of micro-businesses don’t buy wholesale because despite a typically large discount, wholesalers only sell in bulk – and there’s only so much space in your house for 4000 boxes of macaroni and cheese.

How do I find the right wholesaler or supplier?

We’re going to go through a couple of great options for finding the perfect wholesaler or supplier for you here, starting offline and then moving online. Each option comes with its own unique set of pros and cons, as well as opportunities and challenges.

For example, while putting boots to the ground can be more time-consuming, selecting a local supplier can help you act on introductions and leads that wouldn’t be offered if you were 5,000 miles away.

A few great places to start offline are:

Local wholesalers

Local factories may incur less shipping costs and you may have the chance to speak to people in person (which are both great benefits).

However, since they’re smaller they may not be able to supply you with sufficiently small quantities for the initial run or at the right price.

Vertical and horizontal trade shows

There are two types of trade shows where you can present your product or service.

A horizontal trade show is one where wholesalers bring a wide variety of products. This is a great option for you if you aren’t sure what you want to sell yet, and have the luxury of time to shop around – or if you are looking for new and innovative ways to expand your existing product lines.

A vertical market is a market in which vendors offer goods and services specific to an industry, trade, profession, or another group of customers with specialised needs. An example of this might be a vertical trade show exclusively for tech enthusiasts.

If you have a very specific product requirement, a vertical trade fair is probably what you’re looking for to consider the best options.

Next, we have your online options, and for those, you’ll have to:

Go online (+ the pros and cons of buying from the UK and abroad)

Wholesalers tend to shun flashy advertising and have been slower to embrace web search optimisation, so Googling manufacturers is sometimes not the best method to find the best quality wholesalers – although*:

  • The UK Trader and The Wholesaler websites have large directories of UK wholesalers.
  • is known as ‘the one-stop-shop for anyone in the exhibition and events industry in the UK’
  • There are some other great UK options at Wholesale Trading Supplies and UK Wholesale Trading.
  • Most trade fairs have websites nowadays too, and it’s usually possible to check which wholesale distributors and suppliers will be present.
  • For international tradeshow listings, you can try
  • Huge wholesale-based conglomerates such as Amazon, Alibaba and AliExpress
  • Shopify regularly promotes new and emerging wholesale and dropshipping suppliers.

*Please use these websites at your own discretion. 

The pros and cons of buying abroad

There are definitely great opportunities further afield too, and importing products from abroad is a great way to expand your inventory. Manufacturing in the East has become ever-more popular in the last couple of years for its efficiency and low prices, for example. For these kinds of opportunities, the internet is your best friend.

There is one thing to watch out for, however: Banks and services like PayPal make money when businesses pay or get paid in foreign currencies. They inflate the exchange rate without telling you and take that markup as profit. They also could charge a fee to your recipient if they’re receiving your payment in a foreign currency.

When it comes to international invoice payments, there are ways to make them easier – and less expensive: one idea is to look outside of your bank.

An E-Money institution such as Wise is a great option as they give you the mid-market exchange rate and only charge a small, upfront fee each time you make a transfer. Wise also make sure you know the cost before you make the payment.

The pros and cons of buying from the UK

Good to know: Brexit Impact

In light of Brexit, it’s probably best to avoid importing from or manufacturing in mainland Europe for now as it’s about to get very expensive to do so – with the complexity of international invoice payments, shipping, and taxes.

As of 1st January 2021, additional charges for things like customs duties, import VAT, and handling fees are likely to be added on top of items ordered online from EU-based retailers. Whether you’ll be charged depends on the ‘consignment value’ of your order, which effectively means the perceived value of your order. For instance, a package of cosmetics would be perceived as higher value (and therefore have a higher handling fee placed upon them) than a pair of slippers.

These additional charges and costs affect the process of ordering wholesale, but also your customers if their orders end up totalling over £135 in any circumstance. It’s a good idea if you have a business website where you’re intending to sell goods, to perhaps mention the possibility of this at checkout or on your website’s product pages so it isn’t a total unwelcome surprise for them that may affect their purchasing decisions with you in future.

The laws on Brexit are still pretty unstructured and uncertain so far, with a lot of changes and U-turns expected along the journey for stable regulation in this area.

On the 15th March 2021, The UK Government announced a £20 million SME Brexit Support Fund, as well as a plan of other actions and methods intended to help smaller businesses with changes to trade rules with the EU. But beyond that, we can only continue watching this issue closely to see how it all develops.

Choose a supplier who can meet your needs

Once potential suppliers have been shortlisted, it’s important to establish whether they can deliver what you want, at a price you can afford.

You should definitely ask questions, and make sure all your concerns are answered before the big order, for example:

  • Does your chosen manufacturer provide samples?
  • Will your manufacturer agree to the numbers you require?
  • Will there be any additional costs?
  • How much will shipping be?

Remember that your supplier, especially if you’re commissioning personalised products with dropshipping, is at the mercy of your input. If you don’t supply full specifications you increase the chance that the first sample or product delivery will not meet your expectations.

What are the payment options with wholesalers and suppliers?

After you’ve settled on a supplier, it’s time to sit down, figure out which of these payment options may be best for your budget, and how you might plan to negotiate.

When trying to raise funds to buy wholesale stock, the options available are much the same as when dealing with any other purchases for your business. You can pay upfront, arrange a loan, agree on an overdraft with your bank or get a credit card.

The size and requirements of your business and the wholesaler you are dealing with will heavily influence which option you go for. However, traditionally, businesses will mainly cover wholesale expenses using overdrafts.

Upfront payment

If you’re looking for a business interaction without any additional stresses or frills, one of the most obvious and best ways is simply to pay upfront with cash or a merchant account. This is a great way to quickly begin a trustworthy and straightforward relationship with any wholesaler.

Loans and overdrafts

Loans are another option open to small firms. Unless the terms of a loan are breached, they cannot be called in by the banks. However, loans are generally suitable for large, one-off purchases. As buying goods for your firm will be a regular, perennial process, you’re likely to want something more flexible.

Credit cards

Credit cards may not be your first thought when considering payment options, but they have several facets that make them highly useful for purchasing wholesale stock. This strategy depends on your ability to budget wisely and sell all your supplies before the credit card bill lands on your doormat.

Trade Credit

If you can’t get any more credit from the bank and don’t want to use a credit card, do not despair, it’s possible to get a very good deal from the wholesaler themselves with trade credit.

Trade credit is a type of commercial financing in which a customer is allowed to purchase goods or services and pay the supplier at a later scheduled date.

In simple terms, trade credit is a ‘grace period’ suppliers afford to businesses before calling for payment in a bid to attract new customers and keep existing ones. For example, you could have 15 or 60 days after purchase to pay for your items (known as “net 15” or “net 60”, respectively.)

It is well worth the effort to build up a good relationship with your wholesaler to open up the chance of being offered credit and even discounts, especially if you are intending to make large orders in future. Trust is very important to wholesalers, so when you find a reliable supplier, it is worthwhile to stick with them for the long haul to become a valued customer.

“Most wholesalers of a reasonable size will arrange credit for their customers where applicable,” says Richard Grady, Director of Consult QRD Ltd. “Obtaining credit from a wholesaler is really no different from obtaining credit from anywhere else. I would recommend trading with the supplier for a few months on a ‘payment with order’ basis, as this will build your relationship and also allow the wholesaler to see how much money you are likely to be spending.”

Once you have an understanding with your wholesaler, it is then simply a case of requesting a credit account and filling in the necessary forms. The wholesaler will probably run some checks into your credit background and that of any business partners, much like when you take on a traditional bank loan.

Some suppliers will delve deeper into your past and ask for references from other wholesalers. It is therefore best to leave on good terms, both financially and personally, with all your previous suppliers.

If you are in a position of trust with your supplier, you are in a position to negotiate better terms than initially offered, too. This is particularly important when you are first starting out and money is tight. Cashflow can be improved no end if you can secure better terms on credit.

Good to know:

Have some basic principles in mind when thrashing out a supply contract to ensure your business is protected – and don’t be afraid to haggle. You could even use project management software to keep track of all the offers you’ve received from different suppliers to compare and ensure you end up choosing the best deals.

If you’ve chosen your supplier well, you will hopefully be dealing with them in the future, so emphasise this to them in order to secure better credit terms early on.

Alternatively to a grace period, your supplier may offer credit in the form of a percentage discount on your invoice if you pay within a fixed period such as ten days.

Credit may also be offered by way of quantity discounts, equipment loans or consignment sales ( i.e. payment only on sale of the goods).

Do wholesalers offer warranties?

Warranty: A written guarantee, issued to the purchaser of an article by its manufacturer, promising to repair or replace it if necessary within a specified period of time.

Most reputable wholesalers will offer exchanges or refunds for faulty items and would be happy to replace faulty stock, although, legally, they are not bound to do so, unlike high street stores.

There is no one specific warranty that wholesalers use as a standard internationally, and while shops are now duty-bound to give refunds or exchanges for faulty goods by the Sale of Goods Act 1979, wholesalers are not. The goods you buy however will usually have a manufacturer’s warranty which will be passed to you from the supplier once the transaction is made (unless you buy untested goods from a clearance warehouse, as they will have no warranty at all.)

Wholesalers are also able to demand that you prove the products were inadequate when you first bought them, so that’s something to keep in mind – it’s best to have as much evidence as you can when confronting these kinds of issues.


Ultimately, working with a wholesaler is a very fine and viable business model that anyone can start pursuing and have great success with, starting today.

It’s an easy way to get your production process started and to begin building a brand and product line that will have your consumers excited and bringing in profit to you every day. That said, fail to prepare and prepare to fail! You need to put in the initial effort to research an excellent wholesaler, then go on to brand and price your products effectively.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Who can buy wholesale?
    Anyone can buy wholesale! While wholesale products are typically aimed at retailers (simply due to the large number of products being sold), there are no prerequisites or limitations on who can buy wholesale products.
  • Where can I find wholesalers?
    You can find wholesalers offline (locally or at trade shows), or online (through directories, trade show websites and/or the bigger online conglomerates such as Shopify, Amazon or Alibaba).
  • What can I do once I’ve found a wholesaler?
    Once you’ve found a wholesaler, it's important to establish whether they can deliver what you want at a price you can afford. From there it’s about deciding on your payment options and building trust so you can acquire the best deals moving forward with your supplier in the future.
Written by:
Stephanie Lennox is the resident funding & finance expert at Startups: A successful startup founder in her own right, 2x bestselling author and business strategist, she covers everything from business grants and loans to venture capital and angel investing. With over 14 years of hands-on experience in the startup industry, Stephanie is passionate about how business owners can not only survive but thrive in the face of turbulent financial times and economic crises. With a background in media, publishing, finance and sales psychology, and an education at Oxford University, Stephanie has been featured on all things 'entrepreneur' in such prominent media outlets as The Bookseller, The Guardian, TimeOut, The Southbank Centre and ITV News, as well as several other national publications.

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