Friday, September 30, 2016
Friday, March 27, 2015
Greetings from Surenpur on the banks of the Ganges. I'm in jute territory working with our main jute products supplier Mr Chatterjee. This is what I call real India, and probably one of the poorest area's we do business. It is a long way from the nearest five star hotel, so you don't get many NGO's here, or at least I have never seen any. But if ever a place needed help it's here.
The people are gentle and thoughtful, not in any sense pushy. I once was taken to meet the local chief of police, a muscular guy and a keen Manchester united fan, he told me that as areas go there was virtually no crime, and his biggest problem was crashes in the narrow streets. Other than that they often had problems with homeless children. A combination of high mortality amongst the poorer people and domestic fall outs often leave young children on the streets. He told me there were gangster types who tour rural areas offering money to "take care" of homeless children.
These unfortunates can end up in the big cities tapping on your taxi window begging for coin. He told me they take them to Mr and Mrs Kundo who look after about twenty five children in a small shack that had been donated by a local businessman. The police guy told me that the Kundo's were really good hearted people, and as honest and decent as they come. They give the children a sense of family and ensure they attend school.
That afternoon Mr Chatterjee and me went to see.. Mr Kundo was truly a kind hearted guy and the kids seemed clean and cared for. On first glance all seemed good, a nice location on the edge of town overlooking a tranquil lake. But on closer inspection the shack was barely standing, the only running water through the leaky roof, food cooked on an open fire and no toilet facilities. Washing and ablutions performed in the lake. All they asked for was the roof fixed up because in the monsoon, nowhere was dry.
Two years on and we have fixed the place up a bit. A complete new roof, a proper kitchen, shower and toilets. Running water was a challenge they said it couldn't be done, but Mr Chatterjee found a way.
There is lots more to do, next step is to employ an English teacher, the local school don't offer more than very rudimentary English. And spoken English is one of the best routes to a decent job in India..
The kids are always excited and delighted to see me, and now it is mandatory that the first job on arriving in town is to visit the children's home, shake hands, see how they are doing, inspect the latest works and take pictures.
This time I was interested in taking stock of the kids. There is a hardcore of about twenty children and always someone being repatriated with family and new ones, eyes still untrusting, learning to fit in.
I wanted to know just five things, their names, how old they were, how long they had been there, if they had a parent where they were and what they did and finally and most importantly I wanted to know what they wanted to be when they grew up. I'll tell you why later.
Great excitement, there is a bit of jostling for position. Mr Kundo finds an exercise book and sitting on a stool by the lake we start taking stock.
If parents existed, they were in far off towns, all were from broken homes, parents jobs were the like of rickshaw puller or street vendors.
Ages from five to fourteen, they have been living in the shack between one week and seven years.
We have ten budding policemen, probably because of the kindly cops who rescued them and brought them here. Six prospective teachers (like Mr and Mrs Kundo), three army types, two engineers, two cricketers, an electrician and one doctor.
Not bad, not one kid wanted to be a rickshaw puller, and some excellent choice of careers. But now we have a stock figure of expectations and dreams. I wanted to know if anyone wanted to be a businessman like Mr Chatterjee, no-one had thought of that.. I'm feeling a bit put out :(
Next year, we will see if we can raise dreams and expectations, because as I always say; "If you don't have a dream how can you have a dream come true?".
If you want to help.. it's easy just stock some Freedom product lines.. see below.
Until next week.
Friday, March 6, 2015
Hello and Happy Holi.
I'm in China now right after Chinese New Year, (in Yiwu) but in another part of Asia it is a full blown colourful crazy holiday.. known as Holi.
Last week I was telling you about my Letters from Indonesia.. read them here..
Yes it's India's biggest festival and the most fun. A time when normally conservative Indians go a little bit wild, throwing buckets of colour at each other and painting the town red... and yellow and blue..
It is the festival of colours, the festival of love and heaven knows.. anything goes. I remember the first time I experienced the crazy full blown Holi festival. I was in in Kolkata, staying in the ITC hotel in Salt Lake, it is a peaceful hotel famous for minimalism and peace and calm.
But outside we could hear a tremendous roar of activity, a street market come party come mad-house. We ventured out, against the advice of the door-man and went to see what was happening. Before long Carlos (our man in Spain) and I were swamped by street kids and covered in paint. We were offered, and I remember drinking something from rather grubby looking clay pots from a dreadlocked holy man. Only later realised I had been drinking a cannabis smoothy. It's called Blang.. you can read about it here. About Blang.
Soon I'm off to Java for a short trip then to Kolkata and Bangalore.
So have things Indian on my mind..
Have you seen our new Yin Dragon Incense Gift packs? I think they actually make a nice Mother's Day gift, for any old Hippie Mums.
Someone asked me for the back-story to these and if they were from a reputable source. So I want to introduce you to Mr Holk.
Most incense in India comes from village people who hand roll the incense.. which is OK, working at home. Then it it is fragranced and packed at a furious pace in hell-hole factories - much worse than clothing factory sweatshops, because the dust and fumes. I can tell you I have cancelled orders more than once when when I have seen working conditions..
Mr Holkor who makes our bulk incense and now the Yin dragon.. is good guy. A smallish family business, very humble people, we are his first export customer.
I remember the first time we met, he picked me up from my hotel in my hotel in Delhi. I don't think he'd been inside a big hotel before, because I found him sitting in reception on the edge of a chair looking terrified. I don't think he'd been inside a big hotel before, because I found sitting in reception on the edge of a chair looking terrified at the all the comings and goings of a city hotel. Back then he had a ancient tiny car waiting in line behind the taxis and limos. I was sat in the back with my legs left to right bouncing along banging my head on the roof for what seemed like hours wending our way on little rural roads to the north of Delhi. On the way Mr Holkor explained to me that that they had only worked as a contractor for other bigger incense companies, producing cones and sticks that then got packaged and turned into various brands. He wanted to escape the contract production and export directly, but he frankly told me he had no idea how.
We finally arrived in his village, where his company operated from a series of farm buildings. Inside semi automatic machines stamped out incense cones and on the roofs the fragranced sticks were laid out to dry in the sun. It was a beehive of activity and people seemed surprisingly well dressed and jolly. His office was a bare table in basically a cow shed, mud floor, bench table and plastic chairs. But he'd arranged for a wholesale perfume guy from Delhi to be there, to sample fragrances that might be suitable for the European market. So I thought they are thinking about this... they also seem to understand that certain materials can't be used in exported incense and that quality was a big issue. At the end of the day they were so humble and open, that I agreed to help them get started exporting.
At a later meeting I introduced him to Mr Chatterjee our agent in India, who helped them obtain an export license and talked them through all the (massively) complex bureaucracy that is Indian exporting.
For the next six months, parcels of fragrant samples followed me around asia, waiting for my approval or rejection. Finally we whittled down a range of acceptable fragrances, tested burning times and ended up with a super range of incense that make up the bulk incense sticks and coneswe now stock.
Then last year, Mr Holkor brought me a range of boxed incense, using our fragrances and a bit of nifty packaging. We redesigned the labels and put together a range of gift boxed sets. Mr Chatterjee later told me that during negotiations, Mr Holkor had asked him how much to charge and given him all his product costing, saying I trust you to advise us fairly. See the Yin Dragon Incense here.
Mr Chatterjee has helped them a lot, last month (February 2015) at the grand Delhi trade show, next door but one to Chatterjee and his Jute company stand was Mr Holkor and his incense company stand on his very first trade show outing, proudly displaying his wares to the world. It's great to see people get on, don't you think?
Friday, February 27, 2015
Greeting from somewhere in China, the middle of nowhere.. where I can safely say I am the only Englishman. And it's great :)
Actually when I'm the only western face in town, that's when I'm happy - that's when I have made it well off the tourist/hippie/backpacker trail. And if I can locate beautiful products from family businesses then I'm ecstatic!
So it's still happening - Chinese New Year.. it's not over until the dragon dances. and that's a few more days. And enough CNY.. you can read about it in last weeks news: Right Here (if you missed it).
I had my haircut yesterday, it was fun. Everyone in the hairdressers wanted a selfie with me. They were so happy to have a tall englishman in their salon. I thought.. yes now I know what it's like to be Brad Pitt. Lots of questions like, can I have your QQ address (like a facebook address), are you married?, do you have a brother?, is he married?, can we have his QQ address? how big are your feet?... and so on :)
Now, do you remember Alastair Cooke, and Letter's from America? You do? Then your getting on a bit old, old bean.. those honey tones coming down the radio, colouring in pictures of far away places and peoples. Well I want to tell you about my "Letter's from Indonesia" .. not what you think. I mean LETTERS - as in ABC.
I have been looking for letters, for ages. Not just any letters, but letters the right size, typeface, colour and most importantly at an acceptable price. I figured letters are a no brainer for gift shops, so many rich and varied gift applications. Everything from spelling your loved ones name, making "I LOVE YOU", MR&MRS (wedding gifts), naming your house, making a rude word, house numbers, heck there are endless uses for letters.
I had been looking in China, India and Indonesia for a long time. Actually tried to get one or two companies geared up to make them but in the end quality or price was always an issue. Then one day talking to the magic box guys in Bali, I asked if they would be interested, they told me no.. but in a village near by they knew a guy who used to make letters.
So we went to see. We met a lovely guy, who turned out to be the head of his village. It was the usual Bali set up, a compound of houses with a shared work area, temple and farm yard. The village was high up the mountain, so from the bosses house terrace was the most amazing views. He told me they used to have a contract to supply vintage letters to an American company, but the orders had stopped coming. (I googled it and found letters at much too high price point - I reckon there's a limit to how much you will pay for your wifes name in wood).
So we sat crossed legged in the raised pagoda they always use for meetings, with his wife and daughter and I explained my concept to them. Must be, letters about 15cm high (check), rustic hand carved (check), must stand up on their own (never done that but, check), vintage typeface (check), our target price (without a blink..check) and from our research/experience by far the best selling items are whitewashed, shabby chic style. What's white wash? they asked, what's it mean? - Goodness me, no clue about whitewash? where are these guys living? Ah.. yes, up a mountain in the middle of nowhere.
So we started to train them in white washing, it took some time and several samples. The guy came to see us in our Ubud office, and I was impressed by his attention to detail, every letter style he tweaked to look good and stand up, they worked hard to perfect the white washing technique. You have to paint it white, let it dry just long enough, and then wash it it off. Then sand and polish to get the right feel.
Several times the guy said to me, please sir we want this business it will be so good for my village. He promised me they would do a careful and good job.
Finally we worked out an order, OK, there's 24 letters, 10 numerals, and we got to have an "&" and a "@" - we are gonna need a few ready made sets "I LOVE YOU" and so forth.. and I think we need enough stock to supply half the gift shops in Europe, so I did the maths, and then did the order.. Our agent Ringo opened his haversack of cash and we counted out a deposit, it was a massive stack of cash. Indonesian money is bulky, even so it was bank robbery big. They looked happy.
On my next trip to Bali (last December) - Ringo and I went to visit. That sleepy compound was no longer sleepy, now a hive of activity. Some guys were cutting shapes, ladies were carving, some were painting and washing. In the house every room was full of letters, even the steps of the temple were full of shabby chic letters in big wicker baskets. Even now as you read this in that far off village, folk are beavering away making letters for your customers. The daughter is a bit fed up, because her bedroom is a barcode labeling area but our man of letters in Bali is a very happy chap.
And it's been eight months since that initial meeting (pun intended), but those letters have finally started arriving. There are one or two letters missing from the first shipment, but they are on the way, and we hope to keep up a regular supply of letters from Indonesia, now the village is geared up they can make quite a lot.
So... do I have to spell it out for you? ORDER SOME LETTERS TODAY! (see below) and keep a whole village happy.
Any suggestions... let me know - I'll be back there in about three weeks.
Thursday, October 9, 2014
Short videos called "Can You Sell This? " It is simple question but something every good retailer will of course be asking. The idea is to help you find out if you can sell a particular product.. Because if you can then that is a great, because it is another product that makes you money, and keeps your customers happy.
Friday, September 26, 2014
Greetings from Yiwu, China.
Last week I was musing about differing asian reaction's to the Scottish bid for independence. Bad idea! I thought I was offering a few views from different perspectives, and being careful not to take sides. I just upset lots of people on both sides of the argument. If you promise not to get upset with me you can read it here. Note to self: Don't discuss politics in newsletters.
To make amends I'm going to let you in on my top importers tip.
Here in Yiwu (regular readers will know) is the worlds biggest wholesale market for small goods. That includes gifts, and at the last count 90,000 small and big business display their goods here and are up for doing a deal. We have a warehouse and office here so I visit very regularly to find the latest trends in giftware and all the stuff we stock.
First I just wanted to share with you my day in Yiwu.
Mark, our agent here has a young son he is bright as a button and has just started at junior school which happens to be close to the market area. So to save Mark taking his son to school, traveling back to the outskirts of the city to pick me up and then going back into the city all in the rush hour. I have been going on the school run, Chinese style.
Thousands of kids go to this school, so thousands of cars descend on one set of back streets. 7.30am is big breakfast time. Lots of long tables on the street outside bustling kitchens pumping out wonton soup, dumplings, fried eggs and something like crispy nan-breads. It's all jolly friendly and communal. Everyone is so well dressed, Mum's and Dad's or Grandparents and the also the trendy kids (no uniforms I note), I think it is pretty competitive here. So I'm at the middle of the table tucking into a delicious wonton soup, Mark has gone to the kitchen to procure more dumplings. Young Loui turns to the whole table (who are clearly interested in the foreign guy) and announces proudly; "My Father has lots of Lǎowài (foreign) friends.. this tall one here is just one of them" this is apparently a high status thing for a young boy. And very embarrassing for me.
Lǎowài is a word you hear a lot in China, people often comment at seeing one. Even in Yiwu which full of them, I often get asked for a picture along side someone. There are Lǎowài who make a living out of renting themselves out to business meetings to enhance the importance of a company.
Breakfast over and young son despatched to school, we head to the market. Mark has learned that one of his old school friends now runs a very successful scarf manufacturing business. They have some big orders from a huge Russian company. Naturally they have a showroom in the mega scarf market. Think of the biggest shopping centre you have been in, double that and imagine every store selling scarves. It's like that, I like to imagine just the sample scarves on show, put end to end would reach to the moon and back :)
So here's my top tip. It's called: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants.
You know the company has a very big order, you have a good connection. You ask nicely if it is possible to get the same rates if you buy from the big buyers range.
Usually you get a yes, because it is easy additional business.
It's been a good day, I'm delighted to have sourced some very tasteful rather posh, but surprisingly good value scarves which should arrive well in time for Mother's Day next year.
It's creeping up on us, don't be scared. Halloween is only a few weeks away. See our deals below..
Until next week.