Like a Jail Break: Jewelry Sourcing in Hong Kong: Part 1

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…….

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