Archive for the ‘Taxco’ Category

Silver Sourcing in Mexico: Brooklyn in Taxco: (Conclusion)

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

We were back in Brett’s (the Brett Favre look alike), big black Mercedes. Instead of the open road, we were now driving in Taxco’s dusty, narrow and crowded streets. There were no street signs – not that a street sign would have made much difference.

A Map of Taxco

Our Asian-based agent scheduled an appointment with Santiago Manufacturing and Wholesale. SMW was supposedly Taxco’s largest (and only? I asked myself), silver jewelry manufacturer.

The agent ‘told’ me — via email – the factory is owned by a Brooklyn emigrant who moved to Taxco 20 years ago. At last, someone to talk my language. I am, after all, a Noo Yowka from the Bronx.

SMW looked promising. A Taxco silver jewelry factory, owned by a man from Brooklyn, seemed a little incongruous, but stranger things happen.

After about ten minutes, Brett started talking – in Spanish – to our flirtatious bodyguard, the Tony Soprano look-alike. Both were in the front seat. After about 20 minutes, it was obvious we were lost. Both were pointing at street corners and shouting. Susan muttered something about Abbott and Costello.

We passed a big open lot. Two police cars with several people were milling around in a far corner. “What’s happening over there?” I asked. I knew the answer but didn’t really want to know.

“You’re not going to like the answer. Probably another killing,” Tony said to Susan and me. Brett had seen this before.

Susan exhaled, saying something intelligible. I rolled my eyes and swallowed. “Was that on the itinerary?” I was trying to be funny.

Brett yelled, “Echar una Mirada a.” He pointed to a large, castle-like house perched on a hill about two miles away. Tony looked at a map and agreed. They – seemingly – had found the SMW. Finally! Susan rolled her eyes.

The extremely narrow – a cliff on one side, a steep embankment on the other — rocky, dirt road led to the front gate. An armed security guard, checked his clipboard, let us in.

 

We drove into a tiled circular driveway with an ornate fountain in the middle. The entrance was breathtaking. Colored tiles, pink stucco walls, palm trees with a hacienda right out of a Hollywood western. Is that John Wayne?

The Mercedes stopped at the hacienda’s entrance. Out walked Harvey Goldbloom, attached to a big, ferocious-looking Doberman Pincher. Uh ho, Susan was scared of dogs – especially Dobermans. Brett got out and opened the car door for Susan. No one held the door for me – humph.

Harvey looked – to me anyway – like Mark Twain – big white mustache, white shock of hair. You get the image. Mark tried to calm us, especially Susan “Don’t let Arisco fool youse. Once he accepts youse, he’s like a puppy.” Arisco started sniffing me – satisfied – and moved to Susan. He sensed her fear but after a growl from Mark, slinked away.

“Welcome to the Goldbloom Hacienda. Youse must be Susan and Jan,” Mark stuck out his hand. “I is glad your Hong Kong agent suggested you stop heea. I’m sure you’ll like our silver jewelry collection.”

Oh, I forgot to mention, Mark’s grammar was awful, like most people with a third-grade Brooklyn education.

“We’re glad to be here.” Susan responded.

“May I introduce my wife, Regina,” He pointed to a young, attractive Mexican woman. “We gonna have lunch, you wanna join us?” I assumed Brett and Tony would wait in the car or join the guards in the kitchen.

We followed Regina to the stunning dining room. Heavy carved wooden furniture here and there, tiles of all colors on the walls. Orange tiles covered the floor. Large indoor plants in the corner. Wow!

And huge open windows – the Taxco version of air-conditioning.

Susan and I sat across from Mark. Regina and a cook/maid/baby sitter served us. Susan and I pretended we were accustomed to the cultural differences.

Mark started the conversation “Me fadda started da business 20 years ago but he missed Brooklyn so he moved back ‘bout 10 years ago.”

“So you own the business now?” Susan asked. It was nice to hear English spoken without Spanish or Brooklyn accents.

After lunch, Susan started working. When she saw the line, she was speechless. She placed the largest order of her career.

“Yeah, but I goes back three of fur times a year to take care of da money. Nothin safe in Taxco, banks, dis place or your life.” He got my attention. “Very expensive not good,” he continued. “No matta how many guards, always problems.”

“We do good”, he continued, “Cause we da only factory in town. All dem designers come to us to make their stuff.”

Evidentially, SMW manufactured all the styles the wonderful creations of Taxco’s world famous designers. Mark gave them a small royalty for every piece SMW sold. What a great business model, I thought. No wonder Mark is rich. All designers are afraid to start a factory in Taxco – too much crime and bribery.

“Kind of a one-stop shop”, I suggested. No one laughed.

After lunch, Susan started working. When she saw the line, she was speechless. She placed the largest order of her career. We took a quick tour of the well-controlled factory and saw other silver products SMW manufactured – plates, statues, awards, buckles. If it’s silver, they make it. Oh, don’t tell my wife, but I bought a silver watch for her birthday.

 We left Mark and Regina later that afternoon. There was an illogic there. The Goldblooms are nice people in an unusual position of being wealthy but in an expensive prison.

From now on, Susan said on the way home, I just want to see the SMW line once a year. That works for me, I told her. Less expensive and safer. The trip to Mexico might pay off after all.

Silver in Mexico:Our Guy Noir Bodyguard: (Part IV)

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Susan, the professional jewelry buyer, glanced at me over her shoulder. By her expression, she was saying – pleading really — why don’t you negotiate with her. Susan seemed intimidated.

Whether it was Sangria’s good looks, the unusual merchandise, (that’s one of her earrings at right), her smarts or whatever, Susan wanted me do the heavy negotiating. Let’s be honest, Susan won’t be invited to join Mensa any time soon, but she has been buying fine jewelry for years.

But to be fair, I don’t think she’s ever found herself in such a complicated buying – sourcing – predicament as this. Here’s our dilemma.

A)  The seller – Sangria – is a talented jewelry designer without a manufacturing facility.

B)  Her styles – per Susan – would be a big hit in the US as long as the designs are “priced right” – (as they say in the trade).

Holding her powder blue cigarette between her thumb and middle finger, she said she appreciates the wonderful order. “I happy you like my styling,” she continued.

C)  One of the major reasons these beautiful styles haven’t reached our competitors stores — and web sites — is most US retailers can’t — or are afraid to — order small quantities from designers like Sangria. To be sure, they don’t want be out-of-stock of any style, especially during an important buying season.

D)  Sangria would simply give Susan’s US$50,000 order to a motley bunch of local factories.

E)  Having the styles manufactured by 20 local factories can – and usually does – turn into a fiasco. It leads to nothing but unanswered questions. Will Sangria handle quality control? Who checks on delivery schedules? You get the picture.

F)  Will Sangria’s company, handle all these administrative details? Her firm, don’t forget, has just seven employees.

G. Oh, did I mention, the labor cost in Mexico is among the lowest in the world.

I stood up to stretch my legs. I glanced at our Guy Noir bodyguard, the Tony Soprano look alike. He had taken off his aviator sunglasses and lasciviously eyeing Sangria’s assistant. So much for tight security.

To save Susan any embarrassment, I told Sangria I generally handle the shipping and financial details for my company. (Our logo, a cheap plug for my company, is below, on the left.) She turned her attention to me. For some reason, I felt like an Acapulco Cliff Diver ready to take a plunge. I sat down.

Holding her powder blue cigarette between her thumb and middle finger, she said she appreciates the wonderful order. “I happy you like styling,” she continued.

I told her that I’m not sure we will place the order. We want to work with one factory, not twenty.

Sangria chimed in. “My firm will take care of all the quality and administrative details.” She went on, “We normally do this for several of my European customers.” (I didn’t see that as much of a positive endoresement.) “It seems – in some ways – business in  US differ from Europe.”

No surprises there.

I had a thought. I suggested to Sangria that we break the order into a few smaller units, say five orders, each 20% of the total. Once we have tested Sangria’s quality and administrative systems on the first one, we will release the rest in sequence  – one at a time. “Good things happen in phases”, I told her.

“Once we have established a confidence level,” I said, “We will visit you in Mexico often. By that time, we should have developed a strong relationship.” A little incentive for her could benefit us all, I thought.

Will this system work? Your guess is as good as mine. But please stand by.

After Susan finished working on the five orders, we gave Sangria our red QC Manual and what we expect for delivery, communications,  yada, yada.

We were ready to leave. By this time, Tony Soprano was in deep conversation with the homely assistant, (see pix at right.) Seeing that we were ready to leave, he apologized for not being more attentive.

“Fuhgeddaboudit,” I told him. (Yes, I’m from Noo Yawk).

After a friendly good-bye, (a kiss on each cheek), we were on our way to the next appointment. Mexico was growing on us, indeed.

Silver Jewelry in Mexico: Don’t touch Anything: (Part 3)

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

Susan – the buyer — and me, Jan Brassem, – the owner — were sitting in Sangria’s (the shop owner), spacious and sunny combination office, showroom and living room. (Sangria and her smile is on the left.) The room was decorated with a decidedly female flair – frilly curtains, pink walls and pretty pictures of horses and hearts. The room smelled, er, ‘flowery’.

Everything on the tables and breakfront was porcelain and apparantly very delicate so I didn’t dare touch anything. I was big and somewhat clumsy. There was no evidence of computers anywhere.

Susan and I sat across from Sangria at her over-sized desk. The Tony Soprano look-alike, (our bodyguard), still wearing dark sunglasses, was reading a magazine, guarding her door. I was not sure what he was guarding. (In case you don’t remember, the original  Tony Soprano’s picture is on the right.) An assistant stood, almost at attention, next to Sangria waiting for instructions. Our driver, Brett, was across the street, watching the girls and guarding his big, black Mercedes.

Since the styling was beautiful, unique and imminently saleable, Susan would have to use her professionalism and figure out a way to solve the difficult problem(s).

Without a word, Sangria nodded to the assistant who quickly brought in  jewelry in pink and powder-blue trays. Susan gasped. She had never seen so many beautiful styles merchandised so carefully. In fact, she told me later, she had never seen such beautiful trays.

Susan started working. Within an hour, she had pre-selected 90 styles, which she quickly whittled down to 45. She asked Sangria if it was okay to change the stone configuration of a few styles. Sangria told her that since production was an issue, changing stones – from ruby to emerald, for example – would slow down the production process. Susan would use the stones shown in the samples.

She reached into her briefcase and, writing feverishly, prepared a Purchase Order. (A “PO” is music to a  salesman’s ears). Susan would order 50 pieces of some styles and 100 of a few others.

Sangria smiled.

Susan asked her how quick she could ‘deliver’. Sangria replied that since she only has five jewelers working in her shop – most of those used to make her designs — she would have to ‘farm-out-the-order’. She could have the order ready for shipment in the normal six weeks, she said.

When a professional buyer – Susan – hears the phrase, ‘farm-out-the-order’, mental bells, whistles and sirens sound a warning. As it turns out, Sangria’s company was not a jewelry manufacturer at all, but rather a design shop – although a good one.

Sangria would send out Susan’s order to ten, or even 20, small factories in and around Taxco’s colorful streets, (see the picture below), – the perfect definition of a ‘cottage industry’. As a matter of fact, we learned later, many of Mexico’s famous designers operate using this cottage industry ‘model.’

Under this purchasing system, quality becomes a major issue. In addition, production communication, payment terms, pricing, responsibility and a host of related issues can quickly lead to disaster.

Since the styling was beautiful, unique and imminently saleable, Susan would have to use her professionalism and negotiate a way to solve the difficult problem(s).

To be continued…

Silver Jewelry at 110 MPH: (Part 2)

Monday, October 18th, 2010

The next day, the four of us, Susan, (my silver jewelry buyer), our driver, (the Brett Favre look-alike), our body guard, (who reminded me of, yikes! Tony Soprano), and me, (the silver jewelry company owner), were having breakfast at our over-priced hotel in Mexico City. As the owner, everything seems overpriced – part of my job description.

We were on our first buying, (sourcing), mission to Taxco, the Mexican city known for silver mining and an abundance of extremely talented jewelry artisans.

The trip to Taxco would take about two hours so we ate quickly. Susan and I climbed into the rear seat of Brett’s big, black, lumbering Mercedes. Once out of Mexico City’s congestion, we were on the open road.

Susan and I started looking at truly beautiful, delicate and unusual silver designs displayed in big class cases. For Susan to be impressed — she was, after all, a world-class silver jewelry buyer — was notable.

The 2-lane highway – the Mexican version of a super highway, I guess — was straight and clear. Brett opened up the Mercedes and we were soon doing 110 MPH.

When I die, I was telling myself, I want to die like my grandfather — peacefully in his sleep. I do not want to die screaming — in a highway accident, without seat belts — in the middle of Mexico.

I took a breath when Brett slowed down — he almost stopped — to pay a toll. I opened my eyes to see two or three uniformed guards with Thompson sub-machine guns standing in a shadow near the booths. Very scary. I tapped Tony on his shoulder and pointed. He had seen them too. Keep driving fast, he told Brett.

I was sitting behind Brett. I had a partial view of the speedometer and the on-coming left lane. After an hour or so I had composed myself. I even spotted a few classical Mexican burros on the side of the road.

But, things got worse. Bret was now tailgating, (by 4 feet or so), behind a big green, lumbering truck. He turned to me and asked, “Do you see any on-coming traffic – is it safe for me to pass?” I gurgled something to the effect my glasses were dirty.

We finally reached Taxco.

By any measurement, Taxco is a picturesque town. Light colored houses and buildings of all descriptions surrounded a small mountain – a hill really – that is reportedly the main silver mine. The mine has been in operation for centuries so one wonders if sooner – or later – the hill will collapse. “Not a problem,” reported Brett.

Brett parked and stayed with the Mercedes.  Tony accompanied us to our first appointment our Hong Kong agent had made for us. We walked into a bright, sunny showroom – Tony stood near the door. Susan and I started looking at truly beautiful, delicate and unusual silver designs displayed in big class cases.

For Susan to be impressed — she was after all a world-class silver jewelry buyer — was notable. Maybe the trip to Mexico was worth it.

A woman came out of a curtained room and, without speaking a word of English, offered all three of us a cup of tea.

After about fifteen minutes, just enough time for us to see the entire line, the designer came out. As we learned later, she was the company owner, salesperson and designer. She reminded me of my daughter Julie.

An attractive, blond and delicate woman of about 45, she led us to her spacious office. Tony followed and sat on a chair near the office door.

Susan enthusiastically started to work. It would turn out to be a difficult process for her.

To be continued…….