Posts Tagged ‘global sourcing’

A Quick 2012 Update….

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Hi Everyone,

This is Jan Brassem, (Brassem Global Consulting and MainBrace Partners), …just got back from vacation in Florida and was out of touch for a while. I’m ready to start writing again.

 I was thrilled to learn that over 700,000 of you have been reading this blog and have left more than 230,000 comments – most were useful and constructive.

Many of you like my writing style — and some don’t — but that’s totally okay. Please keep the comments on silver jewelry coming. Your comments — good or bad — help me design a better blog which — I hope — is easier reading for you.  But please don’t use spam — it’s really a waste of time.

Spam can be a problem. As you know, I read each comment. “If you take the time to write a comment,” as the saying goes, “I’ll take the time to read it.”

Since this site is now so popular, we really have to be more critical of spam. So, unless you follow these simple rules, our spam ‘filter’ will automatically delete you comment.

  • Be sure to put you full name, (not company or product name),  on your comments. Unless we get a name we cannot accept the comment.
  • Please be sure you don’t use profane or bad language, (you know what I mean).
  • Please do not refer or endorse a porno site, escort service or any sexual content of any kind, here or overseas.
  • Please do use this blog site to promote products or services, (i.e. mattresses, automobiles, athletic jerseys, viagra, dating services, apartments, you get the idea). Some of these products or services are referred to 10 or even 20 times before we delete them. Please save yourself — and us — time.

Many, (maybe 50%), of the comments belong in the spam folder and have been deleted. It does no good to anyone, (other than maybe you), not the reader, not the blogging industry and certainly not the writer to express views on unrelated products, disconnected thoughts and even political views. Some of you do this repeatedly, (sometimes as often as 20 times a day). It really wastes time for everyone since they are quickly deleted.

On the other hand, some of the comments are wonderful. Evelyn suggested we go into more detail, (we’re worried about boring you). Juan suggested that we install a translation program so people from other countries can read the posts. Paul even suggested that we check spelling, (hurrumph).

Several readers asked for permission to use part of our blog on their web site. Permission granted as long as full ‘attribution’ is made. A few readers asked me to be a guest blogger on their site. For these bloggers I suggest that they email me, (Jan@BrassemGlobalConsulting.com), and I’ll gladly comply.

Please keep your (non-spam), comments coming. We read each one and they are great.

See you soon. We’re on our way to Hong Kong Island on the way to the fair. You’re in for a few surprises…

Jan Brassem

‘The Colonel’ on the Corner: Sourcing Silver Jewelry in Hong Kong: (Part 6)

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011
 
 
Ricardo, (the Brad Pitt look-alike) and I, Jan Brassem, his boss, walked out through Peninsula Hotel’s glamorous front door. Two young, white-gloved, smiling, bellmen wearing smart-looking outfits and the famous ‘cake caps’, (remember the Philip Morris pitchman), wished us a good day. 
 
We were on our way to the famous Hong Kong Jewelry Fair at the breathtaking Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.
 
When you walk outside, the hot, smelly, polluted Asian air can surprise you – as it always does me. From my experience, however, your nose quickly adjusts to the, ahh, unpleasant stink  aroma. 
 
“Not like New York, eh?” I said to Ricardo, err, Brad. He shook his head. He was, after all, a die-in-the-wool ‘Noo Yawker’. When we left the city, only three days ago, it was cold and snowing.
 
I was wearing a light-colored summer shirt, a light weight sports jacket and comfortable slacks. Brad didn’t plan as well. The dark suite he was wearing – with a tie, no less — was the wrong thing to wear in Hong Kong, no matter what time of year. Those were only worn by ranking HK government officials or important businessmen.
 
He probably didn’t know any better. He didn’t bother to Google the Hong Kong climate, or, especially, its culture. Suits are not worn in Hong Kong, by foreign buyers, unless it’s white and extremely light weight. He would learn that soon enough. It may be true what they say about New Yorkers: They can be the provincial.
 
The Peninsula’s versions of taxis — chocolate-colored Rolls Royce — were neatly lined up to the left of the door. Never mind, we were on our way to the famous Hong Kong Jewelry Fair by foot and by the legendary Star Ferry.
 
It was a short walk to the Star Ferry dock. The traffic’s hustle and bustle was like New York, except for a few woman who carried  parasols to screen the sun.
 
We passed the city’s famous Tech Center, a few stores, tea shops and a bunch of impressive buildings. (At right, is a typical Hong Kong street at night, just like the one we walked to the ferry.)
 
Further down, on the right, in stark contrast, was a handful of “wanted posters” glued to a stonewall. We stopped to look. “Wanted for Murder” read one. “Wanted for Sedition,” read another.
 
“What’s sedition?” Brad asked. I didn’t answer.
 
We arrived at the pier – kind of a transportation hub. Busses, taxis, bicycles, pedestrians squirmed about. 
 
There it was, on a far corner.
 
 Oh, no, The Colonel!
 
Brad saw The Colonel too. “Can we get some fried chicken and a Coke?” He asked.
 
“We’re in Hong Kong. You can get that in New York.” I told him. ”You can’t be that hungry, it’s just eight in the morning.”
 
This could end up being a long trip.

We bought our ferry tickets, (about $3.50 each), and proceeded down a covered pier. An incoming ferry was not far away – visible through some open windows. In a few minutes it was docked. By now the pier was full of milling people, reminding me of NYC subways.
 
“You must feel right at home here.” I yelled at Brad. “Just like the Q Train at Grand Central.”
 
There was a difference. There seems to be cultural respect for individual space. While on NYC subways, there is pushing and shoving, there was none of that here. I am always impressed.
 
We found an empty bench, rotated the back rest, (so we could sit facing front), and sat close to the railing, near the water. By this time, Brad was sweating. I kinda felt sorry for him…..or maybe not.
 
“Every time I take the ferry I become melancholy.” I was talking to Brad and myself. “…Brings back tough memories.”
 
“Huh?” He was evidentally a man of few words.
“Years ago,” I nodded to Victoria Harbour, “I was a severely wounded Vietnam GI sent to Hong Kong on R&R to recover. My body and spirit were hurting. Thanks, in part, to Victoria’s help , I recovered.”

I wasn’t sure why I was even talking to Brad –  like talking to an open window. “In those days, I must have spent 18 hours on the ferry and the Harbour – back and forth – to get my spirit back.” I was  rambling.

 Enough of that. “Let’s talk business.” I looked at Brad.
 
I told him that we will be dealing with some of the smartest and shrewdest jewelers in the world. We have to be a team. We gotta’ focus on the merchandise that our customers will buy. We have to get it at the right price, at the right terms, at the right quality and at the right delivery schedule.
 
 Not that easy to do.
 We will be dealing with some of the smartest and shrewdest jewelers in the world.
 So, Brad and I developed a clever and innovative  buying strategy.
 
I told Brad to do the initial selection using all the marketing data that we brought along. (He was, after all, the Assistant Merchandise Manager.)  He would purchase no more than US$10,000 per vendor.
 
I would follow Brad to each vendor and negotiate price, quality, payment and delivery terms. If we liked the vendor’s conditions, I would signal Brad, who would then come back and select more from him or her.  If I didn’t like their conditions, I would cancel the order.
 
“Wouldn’t that make the vendor mad at us?”
 
“Better have them mad at us, than to be mad at ourselves.” I said. “Not a great feeling to have over-priced, poor quality merchandise delivered late and already paid for.”  Brad understood, I think……
 
After awhile, thankfully, the ferry landed at the famous Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre. We made it and not a minute to soon.

To be continued next week so stay tuned…. 

 

No Such Thing as a Stupid Question about Silver? (Part 5)

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

To Our Readers,

Thanks for being such loyal and diligent readers of this blog. Over 15,000 of you left comments — some were even positive – and the experts say about 15,000 have read the posts. WOW!

We are simply trying to describe the life of a global silver jewelry buyer without putting you to sleep – trying to make the process, the characters and the countries interesting.

However, some of you, (Robert, Symantha, Yaun and a handful of others), have asked Jan Brassem, (the author),  for more detail. So, with the risk of putting you to sleep, or worse, loosing you as readers, we have decided that the next two or three blog posts will go into the details of negotiating with foreign manufactures for the best price, terms, delivery and quality.

We’ll make this first post a little shorter. The rest will be normal length. We hope you find this entire negotiating process interesting.

We would love to know what you think.

Brassem Global Consulting.

 

 

I arrived in the Peninsula’s dining room at around 7:15 Monday morning. I was ready to do some business.

The Brad Pitt look-alike, Ricardo Mummitti, the somewhat challenged Assistant Sourcing Manager from my office in NYC, arrived a few minutes later.

He sensed my annoyance. “Sorry to be late. I still haven’t adjusted to the time difference. My wife called me at 2AM. Tough getting back to sleep.” I nodded.

“No problem,” I said. “That happens when your wife doesn’t know the time difference.”

“Did you see the sights on Sunday?” I asked.

“I walked the streets Saturday night – couldn’t sleep. Bought lots of junk – er, souvenirs — at the all-night flea markets.”  He reported. “Couldn’t stay awake Sunday afternoon. My body clock is all screwed up – just like you warned me on the plane.”

After a big buffet breakfast, (we wouldn’t have much time for lunch – and the food is very expensive at the Exhibition Center), I told Brad what I wanted to accomplish at the fair.

“Susan, (Brad’s boss in the US), made our first appointment with one of the best silver jewelry manufacturers in the world; Pointers Manufacturing. They have a sales office in Hong Kong and a big plant in China. Probably 2,000 to 3,000 workers.”

“How did she make the appointment,” Brad asked. (I told you, dear reader, that Brad is somewhat challenged.)

“She emailed our contact at Pointers for the appointment. Mr. N’gai also happens to be the owner,” I replied. I was trying to be patient with Brad. Patience, as you may have noticed, is not my strong suit. (The picture on the right is Mr. N’gai.)

Before we start looking at Pointers’ silver jewelry line, I told Brad, we will discuss – in detail — next years’ merchandising and growth plans with Mr. N’gai and his GM Bonnie Lee.

Since their merchandise appeals to our customer base, our two companies have become very close. We trust them and they trust us.

Pointers comes out with about two hundred new styles four times a year, so there should be plenty of samples to select. Since Susan thinks the ‘big-n-bold’ look will be “in” this year, we will look for that kind of styling.

I asked Brad to help in the selection process as long as the styles, after our required mark-up, meet our customers’ expected price-point.

I would mention to Mr. N’gai, confidentially of course, that we will be opening several new stores next year. Since we will probably be placing a bigger order than normal, I will carefully ask him if he could extend our payment terms for thirty extra days. He will quickly agree.

We left the hotel and walked to the Star Ferry that will take us to the Exhibition Center. We are entering the world of global sourcing on a grand scale.

See you on the Star Ferry in Hong Kong’s famous Victoria Harbour. As you can see from the picture, (on the right), we’re already on board waiting for you.

Brad Pitt & Frankenstein. Sourcing Silver Jewelry In Hong Kong: Part 4

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

(more…)

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…

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…….

A Little Housekeeping….

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

I really appreciated the 9,500 comments you have written on this blog – that’s not counting the thousands of spam comments I  deleted. I’m not sure how many have read the blog but I assume it’s more than 7,500 – I hope.

As most of you know by now, I  am Jan Brassem, a silver jewelry-sourcing guy, who likes to write. But, now I’m not so sure. I might just be a writer who happens to be in the silver jewelry business.

I started writing professionally about 2 and a half years ago and now write for seven global trade journals, (you guessed it — on jewelry, duh.)

 Please keep the suggestions coming. We all benefit and the posts will more fun to read.

Of all the writing I do, writing for this blog is the most fun. I also enjoy reading your comments, even the negative ones. Many of your suggestions are great – especially the ones requesting more pix’s and videos. Will do!

A few of you have suggested that we get into more sourcing detail when dealing/negotiating with factories. We’ll start doing that with the promise you don’t fall asleep while reading that process. It can sometimes be booooring!

Anyway, we thought this would be a good time to respond to your comments and so we’re all on the same page..

• Please keep the suggestions coming — I read ‘em all. We all benefit and the posts will more fun to read.

• Please don’t forget our goal: To write about the life of a global jewelry – or any product — buyer. The job is not always peaches and cream. There are risks, sometimes even life and death risks. (Mexico and Bali are good examples.)

• Several of you have commented on our RSS Feed which doesn’t always work. That’s simply because – being tech-challenged – every time I edit a post and open WordPress, the RSS gets goosed and in turn, messes your Feed. Sorry!

A little late, but I’m simplifying the editing system.

• Many of you asked if I like the blog system we use. WordPress is great and especially simple to navigate.

• Several have asked if it’s okay to use part – or all – of one of our a posts. The answer is a resounding YES. Please just mention the site (BrassemGlobalConsulting.com) somewhere.

• Others have suggested we place ads on the site. Great idea…..but how do we do that?

• Finally, we are not sure what you like better: The serial posts, (i.e. Bali and Mexico) or the single-topic posts, (i.e. Hong Kong, China, silver). Please drop a comment and we’ll adjust.

Okay, the housekeeping is done. Now, on to Thailand. See you in Bangkok next week.

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…….