Archive for October, 2010

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…

A Note from the Writers: A Brief Intermission on Silver.

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

While we’ve been blogging for only 90 days, almost 900 people have left great comments, (although we erased a few that weren’t so great – for one reason or another).

This positive reception was very unexpected and deeply appreciated. I, Jan Brassem,  now consider them as part of our Blog-Family. We’ll write a fresh blog every Sunday for them and post it Monday.

You could make the blog even easier to read — and more fun — if you could give us your thoughts on making the blog better. Nine-hundred heads are better than say, four, if you get our drift.

Just a few days ago, for example, Rob left a comment that we should make the blog titles more interesting and enticing. Without missing a beat, we’ve changed most of the titles. Thanks Rob.

While we’ve been blogging for only 90 days, almost 900 people have left great comments

Also, please don’t forget to read all the blogs – especially the older ones. (Click on “older entries” listed on the bottom of the last page), or different ones, (click on one of the many “Categories” listed on the top right of the first page).

The next installment on Susan and John’s buying trip adventures — or misadventures – to Mexico follows above. Find out about Cottage Industries.

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…….

“The Bulge”: Silver Jewelry Sourcing in Mexico: (Part 1)

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Susan, (the silver jewelry buyer) and I (the owner) had just arrived at the Mexico City International Airport for our first silver jewelry buying, (a.k.a. sourcing), trip to Mexico.

Compared to buying trips to Bali, Italy, Hong Kong or Bangkok, the three-and-a-half -hour trip was a piece of cake. Our driver, (who reminded me of a shorter and older version of Bret Favre) and our bodyguard (gulp!) met us at the arrival gate. I ask the Tony Soprano look-alike if he was ‘packing’ and nodded in the affirmative. He pointed to the bulge in his jacket.

We were under the direction of our agent –  Hong Kong based – who made arrangements, including hotel reservations. I had ‘Googled’ the impressive silver jewelry scene in Mexico a few weeks ago but neglected to check the crime/security situation. My bad!

Our agent had made jewelry appointments for us in Mexico City and Taxco. Taxco is arguably the best — and most active – silver jewelry design city in the world. More on that later.

On our way to our fancy hotel – Susan forgot to tell the agent that we were on a budget – we got a run down on Mexico City from Brett and Tony. Both now sitting in the front.

The city, as Tony explained it, was experiencing a flu epidemic so much of the Mexican City population were wearing facemasks as a form of protection.  Susan and I looked at each other, accusing each other, without saying a word,  for the terrible timing.

The city was colorful and beautiful, just like in the movies. On some sidewalks, vendors were selling sterling silver belt buckles, silver boot toes, silver goblets and a whole line of sterling dinnerware.

• Mexico City is notorious for kidnapping. Unless you know your way around and speak Spanish, do not take a taxi. They have a habit of locking you in, unless you pay the kidnapping ‘fee’ which could be as high as US$10,000 or as low as US$35.

• All taxi’s – at least while we were there – were green VW Beetles from the 60’s – 70′s. There were thousands in the city driving like crazed ants, (see the picture on the right).

• Many – but not all – street corners had machine-gun toting soldiers instead of policemen. Bret said the cops were corrupt and not to be trusted. The President of Mexico decided the Army was more to his liking.

• There were no apparent traffic regulations. If there were, no body paid much attention to ‘em.

• The city was colorful and beautiful, just like in the movies. On some sidewalks, vendors were selling sterling silver belt buckles, silver boot toes, silver goblets and a whole line of sterling dinnerware. Tony told us – as Americans – it was too dangerous to stop.

We arrived at the high-end, and expensive, hotel. The bellmen took our bags while we checked in. I noticed the two plain clothed men, with bulges under their jackets, standing on each side of the entrance.

I told Bret and Tony that we would meet here at 7 AM for breakfast. We would plan the day then.

To be continued…..

Silver Jewelry and al-Qaeda in Bali: (A Finale)

Monday, October 4th, 2010

The only thing left to do – in this exhausting buying process — was for me to formalize the details with the factory. Don’t forget, Susan (the buyer) and I (the owner) go through this process every time we ‘work’ with a new factory.

When we’ve been buying from a factory for a year or so, we skip the administrative stuff unless there has been a problem, i.e. late shipments, poor quality or whatever.

We usually complete two of these ‘visits’ a day. Sometimes, however, when the factory owner asks us join him – and usually his family – for dinner or lunch — the process can take all day. When we are invited, we accept since, in many cultures, it’s rude not to. In many foreign countries, the fine line between business and family is often blurred.

Susan, Barney, Dong and I took a few minutes off before we started the ‘administrative’ phase – as I called it. We ‘schmoozed,’ (yes, I’m from New York), a few minutes about the marvelous weather, our hotel, kite flying and al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda, as it turns out, has a habit of blowing up popular Bali nightclubs frequented by Australians. As a matter of fact, that’s one of the reason Barney has heavily armed guards at the front and back gates. The lighthearted banter had turned too serious. It was time to get back to work.

The first thing I did was ask Barney if Susan could have a quick tour of the factory. I wanted to make sure it was – in fact – a quality jewelry factory and not a wholesaler pretending to be a factory. I also wanted it well managed so I could count on it if, by chance, one of our customers placed a big order. Could Barney deliver?

Susan and Dong left for the tour.

I asked Barney how quick could he deliver the order Susan placed. He gave the standard reply: four to six weeks. It’ll be six to eight weeks for the iDesign samples.

Al Qaeda, as it turns out, has a habit of blowing up popular Bali nightclubs frequented by Australians.

Barney and I discussed his payment terms. His were the standard terms offered by new factories; 30% with order and 70% when notified ready for shipment, or FOB airport. These terms are stringent, but once a relationship is established, they’re relaxed. After a while, terms from foreign manufacturers can be better than from some US suppliers.

I reminded Barney of our red-covered, quality control “Movement Tolerances and Delivery Standards Manual” which we had given Dong a little while ago. If Dong’s people followed the standards, invoicing and shipping procedures the relationship between our offices should be a piece of cake.

We are always annoyed – the manual covers this in detail — about careless administrative mistakes. We call those “Ooops Problems”. Late shipments, missing invoices, short shipment, he got the idea. We are always annoyed and does nothing to build a solid relationship between our companies.

After about 45 minutes, Susan and Dong returned from the tour. She gave me a subtle nod. The factory was fine – in her eyes anyway. (I’m still not sure what Susan knows about manufacturing jewelry, but you can get a quick sense of how the place is managed just by being observant and asking lots of questions. After touring about 50 factories, though, Susan should know something.)

After a nice toast to new friends and the start of a new business relationship, Barney and Dong escorted us to the car. Our driver/agent/guide was playing cards with the tough-looking armed guards on a picnic table near the fortified front gate. He ran over, packed up our bags, put them in the trunk and started the car.

Since we had become friends, Barney and Dong hugged both of us.

As we drove off, we took a deep breath. One down, three to go, I said to no one in particular.