Archive for December, 2010

Sourcing Silver in Hong Kong with Brad Pitt: Part 3

Friday, December 24th, 2010

But wait, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Keep in mind, the bullet-train’s windows only give a few snap-shots of Hong Kong. The history or the city goes deeper. (Duh!)

Don’t forget, I’m on a buying (a.k.a. sourcing) trip for my New York-based silver jewelry company. (That’s right, I’m a Noo Yawka). I’ve asked the company’s Product Development Officer, Susan, to join me. She declined — some lame excuse about being eight and a half months pregnant. She suggested I ask her second in command, Ricardo Mummitti. I asked. He accepted.

Ricardo a young 32 year-old, single guy, looks a little like Brad Pitt but with an Ed Norton brain, (remember Jackie Gleason’s Honeymooners? If you don’t, your Dad will.) There’s another problem with Ed; he’s a New Yorker too, having never been outside the Bronx or Manhattan. When it comes to sourcing, he’s a ‘rookie’ – with a reputation of asking irritating questions.

Back to Hong Kong. Without going into too much detail, Hong Kong was, until recently, a British possession. So, English is the ‘second’ language, after Chinese Cantonese. Mandarin is the other Chinese language, but only spoken on mainland China.

Nevertheless, the city has a wonderful mix of Chinese and British culture. Many British investment banks, and their English executives, keep the ‘old-school’ British traditions alive – lunch clubs, three-piece suits, lawn tennis and all that.

All told, Hong Kong is clean, orderly and modern.

But, the Chinese culture still has the upper hand. The appearance of the streets is clearly Chinese, (see the picture on the right). As a matter of fact, tea, the Chinese version of American soft-drinks, is sold in tea parlors on almost every corner. They remind me of New York’s pizza shops.

There are even some subtle signs of American culture. McDonald’s – believe it or not — has a large restaurant near the Star Ferry Pier, a landmark in Kowloon.

All told, Hong Kong is clean, orderly and modern.

 On the train, we were sitting next to jewelers from Mumbai, Istanbul and Vietnam, all headed to the fair.  

No matter how hard he tried, Ricardo’s head was spinning; his eyes couldn’t keep up with the sights — the train was moving too fast. After a while, he lost interest or he got a headache – or both. He started with the questions.

“What’s on the other side of the harbor?” He asked.

I answered as simply as possible. Hong Kong is really divided into three parts: Hong Kong Island, (called Hong Kong), Kowloon and New Territories. People mainly live in Kowloon, along with some stores, small factories and hotels. My favorite institution, The Hong Kong Museum, is in Kowloon too.

New Territories is full of tall apartment buildings to accommodate the flood of people arriving from mainland China.

Hong Kong is an Asian center for banks, brokerage houses, foreign embassies and such. Government offices and the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centreare there too. There’s a lot to do and see in Hong Kong Island but, I told Ricardo, explore the sights on your own time.

Ricardo chimed in. “I’d like to email my babe”, (New York translation: girlfriend). “ What hotel we staying at?”

Although there are hundreds of marvelous hotels in the city, I told him I had made reservations at the world-famous Peninsula Hotel. The place is very expensive, but arguably the best hotel service in the world. Among other things, each floor has a butler so chances are your bags will be unpacked before you reach your room.

“If the hotel is so expensive why not go somewhere cheaper?” he asked

Well, during WWII, Hong Kong was occupied by the Japanese. My uncle was a Dutch soldier, captured and interred, (and died), in The Peninsula — then a Japanese POW prison.

Staying there makes me – err, emotional. Maybe the room I’m staying in will be the cell he died in.

“Okay Ricardo”, I said in my deep executive voice, “No more questions. Let’s start thinking about the fair and what you’ll be doing there. Let’s make the company some money.”

“Now starts the business of sourcing globally,” I told him. “You might even learn something.”

To be continued…

Victoria Harbour: Sourcing Silver Jewelry in Hong Kong: Part 2

Monday, December 20th, 2010

It’s tough to describe the agony of the 21-hour, non-stop flight from NYC to Hong Kong. If you’re flying Business Class you’ll have good – but not great — leg room. The flight attendants frequently offer meals, drinks, hot towels, newspapers, you get the picture.

You try not to get bored, (difficult), try not to get into conversations with strangers, (easier), try to do some office work, (easy), try to keep hydrated, (drink lots of water) and get some exercise, (walk around a lot).

So, after the movies, (three), meals, (four), naps, (a bunch), snacks, (two), reading and day-dreaming for hours, you’re finally landing in Hong Kong.

A bit of a Hong Kong history. I was a US soldier, (Captain Jan Brassem they used to call me), on R&R from the Vietnam war, when I first visited the city. In those days the airport, Kai Tak, was one of the scariest and most dangerous in the world.

To land a Boeing 747 the pilot had to fly so low, you could (almost) read the street signs. One wag told me he could read  the headlines of newspapers sold on street corners. That might be an exaggeration, but take a look at the video, (above), and you’ll see, in those days, landing on Kai Tak was a white-knuckle, terrifying event.

Now, thank goodness, there’s a brand new  Hong Kong’s International Airport, which is one of the most modern and efficient in the world. Here’s a good example.

After you’ve arrived and glide through passport control and customs area, (there’s no, “Please Open Suitcase”  here), you enter the huge terminal lobby. This is a good time to get local currency – the Hong Kong dollar – and make a hotel reservation. (Shame on you if you haven’t  made reservations from home.) More on Hong Kong hotel scene later.

Now, it’s decision time. Since the airport is about 50 miles from the city, you have the option of  taking an expensive taxi or the inexpensive speed, (repeat speed), train. Take the inexpensive train, (duh!).

The train is about one hundred feet from the lobby. After buying a ticket, you walk to — and into – the clean and sleek train – like walking into a jet plane. Your luggage is carried on board by female porters, who do not accept tips. (Since I’m from Noo Yawk, I’m flabbergasted).

The train is fast – about 100 MPH – or so it seems. It travels along spectacular Victoria Harbour – the signature sight of Hong Kong. It also passes the frenetic Hong Kong docks, giving you an idea of the city’s economic power. No evidence of a recession here.

Through the train’s big picture windows, you get a few clear ‘thumbnail’ views of Hong Kong. This sourcing/buying trip will be a great opportunity to combine business, (sourcing) with the beauty and activity of a world-class city.

Please stay tuned…
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Like a Jail Break: Jewelry Sourcing in Hong Kong: Part 1

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Here we go again. Every time I go on a buying — ‘sourcing’ —  trip and step into a car – or a beat up taxi, (like this one) –   I feel like I’m taking my life in my hands. First, it was Bali, then Mexico and now New York City.

We were on our way to Kennedy Airport. It was snowing hard, (slush everywhere), during the Friday evening rush hour — and almost dark. Kind of a cattle stampede, a gold rush and a jail break – rolled into one.  I was nervous. And adding to the confusion, our driver didn’t speak English. He was yelling, occassionally spitting, into his cell phone in some indistinguishable language.

“Take Queens Midtown Tunnel,” I told him.

“Heo ejje hirr wer Treborgh Brid,” he answered.

“Kennedy Airport,” I told him, an octave higher.

He nodded appreciatively. Evidentially he lives in Queens. A short ride after dropping us off.

Hong Kong is arguably one of the most interesting and entertaining cities in the world. Great food, wonderful shopping, gambling in Macao, a rich history, Chinese culture….

But wait, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Since our jewelry buyer was on maternity leave, I asked her young, eager assistant, Ricardo, to join me on a buying trip to Hong Kong. We were in the office lobby, suitcases in hand, waiting for our cab to drive us to Kennedy. The Delta flight would take 22, (gulp!), hours.

The world-famous Hong Kong Jewellery & Watch Fair – a must for any modern jeweler looking for new designs and fresh ideas – was opening in a few days.  The Fair’s efficient organizers  anticipated more than 2,700 exhibitors from more than 55 countries. About 35,000 jewelers from around the world would be in town for the event.

Over the years, I had escorted US-sourcing missions to the show. I was looking forward to going back.

Globalization, shrinking margins, the Internet, competition, a lousy economy and who knows what else, forced many jewelers to think globally for growth and profitability. Nothing new here; I’ve been writing about Global strategies for years.

Ferry in Hong Kong Harbour with Convention Ctr in background

The Fair, an event really, thanks to the beautiful Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre, (seen behind the harbor ferry in the picture), has grown to be one of the largest jewelry shows in the world (so they say). This was my seventh trip and it was obvious – to me anyway — that the extravaganza gets bigger every year.

The range of designs, the diversity of the visitors and the size of the building, (from a distance The Centre looks like a small bird with big wings), can be intimidating and – at the same time – exciting.

One more thing, Hong Kong is arguably one of the most interesting and entertaining cities in the world. Great food, wonderful shopping, gambling in Macao, British history, Chinese culture….I could go on. But, more on that later. The goal now, though, is to get there in one piece and on time.

A yellow cab pulled to the front of our building. Other than being filthy, with a loose rear fender, cracked front window and coat-hanger antenna, the taxi looked, er, safe — kind of. The driver, wearing a dirty golf shirt and khaki shorts, (it was late February and snowing), got out, forced open the trunk and flung in our two bags. He closed the trunk with a slam.

The ride to Kennedy was uneventful, except for the driver’s gesticulations, screaming and mumblings. Evidentially he was a ’challenged’ guy with a wide personal space requirement. It would have been more effective, nevertheless, if he had opened his window before cursing at the next taxi….easier on my eardrums too.

The check in at the Delta counter was like feeding-time at a turkey farm. We eventually checked in.

Once we were in our Business Class seats, not particularly happy to sit — in one place — for 22+ hour flight, I checked to make sure I had…

• My travel documents, (passport, credit cards, identification, emergency home numbers, etc.)
• My light reading books and magazines: 
• My company’s sales records and analysis: 
• My company’s price-point analysis: 
• My company’s inventory balance report: 
• My company’s next years merchandising plans: 
• My company’s list of popular styles by type and category: 
• List of companies whose products I liked and want to visit: 
• List of companies to discuss our expansion plans: 
• List of my company’s contacts and friends in Hong Kong: 
• Names and numbers of US Dept. of Commerce officials in Hong Kong: 

This was a long flight so if I had trouble falling asleep, I could simply read one of these dry, computer-generated reports. I would be asleep in no time.

I was familiar with the rules of long flights. Be sure to ‘hydrate’, (another way of saying to drink lots of water), move around when you can, set your watch to Hong Kong time, (11 hours behind) and start sleeping when it’s night in Hong Kong.

The pretty Flight Attendant handed out our first meal (smelled and tasted like a sweat sock), saw a movie, read a magazine and had – sigh — only 19 hours to go. Gimme some of those reports.

Hong Kong here we come.

To be continued…….