If you're looking for an offshore manufacturer to subcontract your work to, thepeople in the middle of your trade--the shippers--may be the best source of leads.

When Joanne Marlowe started a company to sell weighted beach towels, she did business at first with mills in Brazil and Yugoslavia through U.S. agents.But what she really wanted was to save broker fees by finding offshore mills she could work with directly. She told her shipper what she waslooking for. The shipper then gave her names of contacts at three manufacturers and made introductory calls on her behalf. Marlowe followed up andeventually made the new mills her primary partners.

"When you're dealing overseas, companies are less likely to rip you off if they know you're part of the network," says Marlowe. Bottom line: betweencheaper freight and elimination of agent commissions, Marlowe figures she saved 15% to 17% on costs.