Starting an Import Business


Have you found a demand in the US for specific products, with a combination of quality and value that just doesn’t seem to be available on the local market?  Do you know where to find them in another country, at a price point that would make them attractive to US buyers?  If so, you may have just identified a great business opportunity in importing!

Like any other business, successful importing requires:

  •   identifying a demand, and

  •   filling it,

  •   at a profit.

How do I identify a demand that is not being met here, that I may be able to fill with imported products?  The details will vary, but useful questions commonly include:

  • Is this a type of product that I (and enough other people) want, that is not available in the US, or not available at a reasonable price?

  • Am I already familiar with the nature and use of the product, in enough detail to identify the specific features and price points (and trade-offs between them) that are most important to US purchasers and users?

  •  Do I already have sources (or other contacts who can help me identify sources) that can supply the product, in the volumes that will make sense for my import operation?

  • Are there any restrictions (or other special requirements) on the import of this product into the US?

When you have identified a suitable product (or line of products), it’s time to “do your homework” about any of the product or shipment details that you are not already thoroughly familiar with.  Your customs broker / international freight forwarder can help you with critical questions, including:

  • What customs duty rates and customs user fees will I have to pay on each type of product?

  • Are there any additional taxes collected on the product during the customs clearance process, such as US Internal Revenue excise taxes on alcoholic beverages?

  • Does the product require a license or permit, or other specific documentation, from any other US Government agencies?  Does the product require additional data reporting to other agencies, either through the customs clearance process, or separately?

  • What are the customs broker’s professional service fees and related charges for customs clearance services?

  • What other types of costs am I likely to encounter, such as delivery charges, and warehouse handling and storage charges?

  • What mode (or modes) of transportation make both economic and operational sense for the type and quantity of products in my initial shipments – air freight, partial container ocean freight, full container ocean freight, or other specialized options?

These answers, along with your supplier’s rate quote for the product itself, will help you estimate your costs, and evaluate international shipping options.

Also, your review of likely overhead and administrative costs, including storage costs for your inventory, will further help identify the price points you will need to sell at, to make adequate gross and net profits.  If your prospective customers would consider this a good value for the product, which fills a previously un-met need, this is a strong indication that your business plan makes sense, and is worth moving forward with.

The best time to do this review and planning is before you place your first order, even for a sample or “test” shipment.  As your customs broker, Transmark Customs Brokers will be glad to help you through this process.    

To more efficiently assist you in reviewing your importing options, TCB appreciates your help in providing specific information about the products you are considering importing, including:

  • product type and description (copies of descriptions from manufacturer’s website, or a link to product listings on that website, can be especially helpful)

  • country of origin (where the product is actually produced or manufactured)

  • shipment origin and destination

  • unit costs, including any price breaks for quantity shipments

  • expected quantity of product for first shipment

Both new and currently active importers are invited to contact Transmark Customs Brokers with any questions about any of these details, by e-mail to or by calling us at 253-893-7400.  We look forward to working with you.