Posts Tagged ‘silver sourcing’

‘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…. 

 

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…….

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 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.

“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.

Beautiful Silver Jewelry in Bali : Meet Barney Fife, (Part 4)

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Within a few minutes, the Factory Manager, Mr. Sanadrij Dong, appeared.  Wearing the male version of the colorful Bali sarong, Dong (first names are last and last names are first in Asian culture), bowed instead of shaking hands. Another element of Asian tradition. (Dong is pictured on the left.)

Dong sat down next to Barney Fife’s look-alike (the factory owner), and faced Susan and me, Jan Brassem,  from across the table. He smiled. He was a short man, (5’2” I would guess), with a well-traveled wrinkled face. With 580 jewelry people working for him, he must have been a skilled and experienced jewelry manager.

Turning to Barney, he said something in Bali. Evidentially, Mr. Sanadrij doesn’t speak English. Barney would have to translate.

Working with translators, has a few important features. First, since the conversation goes through a third party, everything, obviously, takes twice as long, allowing you more time to think. Second, since longer sentences have ‘fuzzier’ meaning, they quickly become shorter. (It’s amazing how precise people can be when they have to be.)

Finally, it is important not to interrupt when sentences are being translated (That was hard for me, since “interrupting” is one of my irritating habits.)

After both Barney and Dong signed our formal Nondisclosure Agreement, I handed the blue lapis sterling silver iDesign — a watch – to Dong. The watch was one of our simplest. (It’s pictured on the right, below) He turned to Barney with the surprised look that Susan and I had seen before. I asked Dong, via Barney, if his people could design a series of those – but with the same technology.

“The person who came up with this idea is either crazy or a genius,” Dong said.

Dong was going to look under the hood — so to speak. He held the lapis  iDesign watch in his gnarled fingers and studied it. Deep in thought, I waited while he studied. Wait! Wait, I told myself, Dude, let him think.

Dong asked a few technical questions, (What’s this and why’s that?), while absorbing and processing the answers. Every time he understood something, he smiled. “…very clever.”

“The person who came up with this idea is either crazy or a genius,” Dong said. “I’m not crazy,” I said in a huff. Susan said she wasn’t sure. I wasn’t smiling.

“Yes, we can design a series of these and simplify the internal movement a little,” Dong said. “It’ll be fun and challenging for me and my jewelers. …something different after all these years.”

Barney asked if we would supply some watch movements and the “Patent-Applied-For” tech-components. Susan said she’ll ask the factory to FEDEX enough pieces for the six-each samples, plus a few extras.

Susan reached into her briefcase and handed Barney a copy of our bright-red formal Quality Control “Movement Tolerances and Delivery Standards Manual.” For the second time today, Barney was surprised. “There is no point,” Susan told him, “In making great designs without perfect quality. Without excellent quality, everyone looses.”

To Be Continued…….

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