It’s become so easy for customers and retailers to connect with each other and to find new ways to move goods into different channels. It’s meant a lot of new competition for us. But that’s a good thing. I encourage it. It has forced DVA and other established companies to continuously innovate and find better ways to work with our customers. One of the offshoots of these recent developments is how easy it has become to set up a business and connect with customers – even if you are a less-than-reputable company. It’s unfortunate, but I hear stories about this every day. I can’t tell you how many times people have come to us after being burned by a fly-by-night company purporting to do what we do. Now, I’m not saying we’re the only company in town. But I want to offer a few tips for finding a reputable company to work with on your overstocks and closeouts. -This one is so simple that I almost don’t need to say it: Get a referral. Find somebody else who has worked with the company – and had a good experience. If you can’t find anyone who’s worked with the company – good or bad – that should tell you something. Here’s a simple way to do this: Ask to speak to some of their customers. If they won’t let you or seem uncertain or unable to provide any contacts…the writing is on the wall. -Don’t work with any company that uses only a cell phone or yahoo.com email address. I’ve got nothing against Yahoo. It could be AOL or Hotmail. But in my experience, these people tend to disappear. Again, this may sound obvious, but the person you’re working with should have a legitimate company email. Trust me. -Similar to the one above: Make sure they have an office. Again, this sounds pretty basic (and it is). Any legitimate company will have an office. I’ve got nothing against two guys working out of their garage to start a company. That’s great. But are those the guys you want handling your inventory? -Any company you work with should have a warehouse. This is also fairly easily done. Anybody can rent space in a warehouse. But having your own warehouse shows a level of commitment and experience – especially with the logistics of moving product. -This is not a hard and fast rule…But one other guideline I recommend: Work with a company that has been in business at least five years. Basically, if a company can stay in business for five years, they know what they are doing. They have figured out how to keep their customers satisfied, manage their own costs, and get the job done. -Ask for bank references. Some companies may get touchy about this, saying it is “private” or “confidential” information. Or they may drum up some story about as-needed financing. But, long story short, you want the company you are working with to be able to cover your deal with the cash they have on hand. Period. None of these things are going to guarantee a great experience with the company you choose. Hopefully, if nothing else, they will help you avoid those “here one day – gone the next” vendors we’ve been seeing recently.With the rise of the Web, our business has exploded.