1. What are you going to sell ? - There are suppliers where you can buy ink cartridges, toner cartridges, fax rolls, speciality papers, stationery etc from. Some of these suppliers sell original, some sell non original and some sell both so the first thing you need to decide on is 'am I going to sell both original and non original products ?'. Then get in touch with your prospective suppliers and if possible go out and see their premises so you see for yourself their quality control processes etc.
To give you an idea of what one person can handle in terms of choosing your product range, I currently have approx 3000 products in total and that's about maxed out for me time wise. This figure includes both original and non original items. Keep in mind that every time you add more products from a new supplier or from an existing supplier that means another pricelist you have to update monthly or however often they send their updates.
I would suggest you start with one or two suppliers and fairly small product range until you get the feel for your new business and are able to see whether you can handle more suppliers and the larger product range they will bring. There's another good reason for this, you're going to need to spend a LOT of your time promoting your business online so bottom line is you're better off spending 80% of your time working ON your business with a modest number of products than spending 80% of your time working IN your business because you have thousands of items on your site.
2. Direct shipping & Tracking orders - This is pretty important so pay attention :), all my suppliers have a facility available to directly ship goods to my customers for me meaning I don't actually hold any stock whatsoever. Running my business this way means I hold no stock and therefore don't have to employ anyone to run a warehouse. There is a downside though, the big one is that if you do direct shipment this means your supplier immediately has access to your customers details so be careful which suppliers you pick as some of them also retail as well as wholesale so if you need to decide whether you trust them to not try and steal your customers from you. To be honest I haven't found any suppliers yet who do wholesale and retail that I've had any cause to be concerned about but you do need to be aware of this.
When it comes to tracking orders you need to make sure that your supplier has an efficient system in place for tracking the inevitable orders that go missing in action from time to time. Id also suggest that you actually find out which courier companies they use as you will find ,as I have, that they are very definitely not all the same. Some suppliers use more than one and will allow you to choose the one you'd prefer if you don't like the others they have on their books.
3. Supplier pricelists - You will need to ask them to send you their regular pricelist so you can keep your database up to date, if their pricelist isn't in a spreadsheet its going to be much harder for you to do your updates so push them a little and they may just arrange to send you as a spreadsheet so that you can manipulate the data more easily. If you can you want to use suppliers who send out their pricelist with the items that have changed since the last update somehow marked so that you can quickly see what has changed without having to go through the whole list. If you are starting out chances are you're a one man band like me or perhaps two man band and this saves a lot of time.
4. Supplier Codes & OEM Codes - I'm going to discuss this more fully at a later stage in this series but I will briefly discuss something you should be aware of now. Basically every cartridge, fax roll etc you sell whether its an original or non-original will have two codes associated to it being an OEM code and a supplier code and usually they wont be the same. The OEM code is the original manufacturers code recognised and used in the industry by everyone. So for example if you're selling a Canon BCI-24 ink cartridge the OEM code 'BCI-24' will be used by all everyone so we have a universal standard. Usually a supplier will have a different code (the supplier code) they use to track the item in their warehouse.
Now that you know basically how the codes work I've got some bad news for you. You will find that many of the non original suppliers don't have very good compatibility lists of which OEM codes are compatible with the thousands of different printers out there so be careful ! Of course they have to abide by what their pricelist tells you but I prefer to get it right in the first place so I don't have returns from my customer when they find that their cartridge doesn't fit into their printer.
My best advice for you here is to find one suppliers compatibility charts you trust and use that as a foundation to build on. This is what I do and from there the only other sources I trust are the actual manufacturers themselves such as HP, Canon etc etc. After all if these guys don't know which machines their cartridges fit into we're in real trouble. Unfortunately not all the manufacturers websites have compatibility lists available and when you ring them seem to want to keep it all a big secret.
When you setup your website later on you can do as Ive done and allow customers to find their cartridges by code or the machine model or you can always just play it safe and get the machine model of the client and match that to the correct consumables.