I am planning a new E-commerce business and will be selling products that are only available from specific manufacturers. How should I approach these manufacturers when I currently have no live website or history of selling such products.
At the moment I have no products to sell on the website but to be able to source these products will I need a live website to show I will be running a serious business?
What things should I say or do to help me source the products I require?
You're in a very common position for a Startup. First, I would say that buying and selling is a very human-oriented trade requiring a sincere, human-touch approach often times, and therefore the industry you're in and the manufacturers you're looking to source products from will require different tactics than those of the startup down the street.
Without knowing your industry/manufacturers, my suggestion is to 1) be beyond passionate about your forthcoming business and the reasons for wanting to sell their products and 2) be open and honest about exactly where you are in the planning process, and ask them for all the information on their wholesale/distributor operations as possible, regardless of whether you are in a position to place an actual order yet per their policies.
These two tactics put you on their radar, help make a case for why they should do business with you, and sets the stage for further communications once your site is ready.
Like a good business plan, including details about yourself and your principals (the 'human touch') can be a great selling point. And of course a logo and any branding you already have in place short of a complete website will go a long ways.
You don't need to be up and running to approach the manufacturers.
There are 2 main approaches that you could take and this will heavily depend on the manufacturer you approach. I used to work for a company that will not deal directly with the retail operations and had distributors in various regions that would buy products in large bulk from them and then sell smaller quantities to the retail shops like yours.
Second approach is that the manufacturer doesn't have distributors and sell in smaller bulk to the retail operations that do the retail sales.
In either case you don't need to be up and running before you approach the manufacturer of any goods but depending on their distribution model you may have to front cash to simply buy the products you want up front. The question that you have to answer for yourself how much cash can you float to buy the product before you're able to sell it.
One thing to definitely be aware of is that until you launch and establish yourself with the manufacturer you would have to pay for the product up front.