Posts Tagged ‘sourcing’

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.

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…….

It was suggested that some of our hundreds of readers might agree, disagree or even augment this — or our other — posts. She was so right. We would love to hear, (er, read), your constructive comments.

Also, please be sure to read all our posts. Just click on one — or all — of the categories on the right side of the page. You may find the post on China, Hong Kong, silver jewelry, etc. interesting as well.

Bali: Cue the Trumpets. Introducing Our Silver Styles. (Part 3)

Friday, September 17th, 2010

After two hours of analyzing, fine-tuning and buying over 80 samples, Susan was mentally exhausted. In her best New York accent, she asked one of the pretty assistants for a cup of tea.

She turned to me and gave me an approving nod. So, in her professional opinion, this factory had good styling and quality. Since Susan didn’t want any second-guessing on her final selection – not a word from the ‘peanut gallery’, (Another harrumph) – I was getting bored.

It was finally my turn. The boss, Jan Brassem, gets his turn.

The factory owner – kind of a grizzled Barney Fife look alike with cigarette stained fingers – turned his attention to me. Now came the tricky part.

A few years ago, we had developed an extremely popular silver jewelry brand. We were wondering, I asked Barney, if his factory could design and produce a few, (two or three), original designs for us. If successful, we could potentially sell thousands. They would have to be exclusive to us and made from scratch.

“Of course. We would love to,” said Barney.

Cue the trumpets. Our brand, known as Eclipse iDesigns, contains a unique, small, micro-mechanical component.  The brand’s name shortened to iDesigns, allows the wearer to change the silver style’s look, color even character – with only the slightest touch.

Each design contains a self-contained ‘movement’ – much like a simple watch movement. Many of the movements have patents pending. “Simply put,” I told Barney, “iDesigns combines two current and big-time consumer appeals, beautiful silver jewelry with simple technology. … never been done before.”

Barney gave me that ‘deer-in-the-headlights’  look. Susan smiled — she had seen that before.

The brand, known as iDesigns, allows the wearer to change the silver style’s look, color even character – with only the slightest touch.

To make it even more confusing, Susan chimed in with some more details. “The wearer can’t see the movement, the cost of the style doesn’t change and you don’t need a crowbar to make it change.”

“It was developed with ‘outside-the-box’ thinking,” she continued.

By this time, Barney was thoroughly dumbfounded, even mystified. I reached into my briefcase and pulled out three popular iDesigns. The first, a silver lapis bracelet that transforms into a watch. The second, a silver filigree pendant that converted from onyx to turquoise. The third was an earrings that changed from puffed heart to blue topaz.

Oh, did I mention, I told Barney that the iDesign ‘technology’ uses bearings, hinges, computer codes and algorithms as well as other tech components under extremely close tolerances. Most factory managers find iDesigns challenging and enervating — especially after working in a  tedious jewelry factory for years, generations.  Just ask your factory manager,” I said. 

Barney, amazed, took a deep breath, and asked one of the assistants to get his factory manager. She ran to the phone.

To be continued…

Bali: Buying Silver Jewelry (Part 2)

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

The sun-lit room smelled like Orchids. My buyer, Susan, and me, Jan Brassem, were sitting next to each other along side a long dark wooden table facing the factory owner.  One assistant was standing behind him while the other rolled in a cart loaded with trays. Each tray must have held at least 100 jewelry styles.

Our first day in Bali was nothing more than a paid vacation. It was finally time to get to work. Susan took out a raft of computer generated sales, profit, style/type reports. She had done her homework.

Like many jewelry buyers, she was under the gun — so to speak. It was time for her to apply her taste, design knowledge, manufacturing know-how, cost breakdown, experience, negotiating skill, financial knowledge, you get the idea. Her work could spell the success or failure of my jewelry store’s season.

Concentration was key. She had to analyze each design, its cost, markup, quality, customer tastes and who knows what else. She asked me – I was just an observer now – not to talk or banter with the owner or flirt with the pretty assistants. Hummphhh.

• She knew what styles, types and price-points our customers preferred.

• She knew what kind of designs, (basic, fancy, ornate, etc.), our customers bought.

She had to analyze each design, its cost, markup, quality, customer tastes and who knows what else

• She knew what margins, (at least keystone), we had budgeted for the season. Susan would look at each style she had ‘pre-selected’, (these were put in a special tray), and once she went through their entire line, she would ‘review’ the pre-selected tray to be sure each design could ‘carry’ the necessary retail price. If it couldn’t it was returned to the cart.

• Known for its special designs, (she had done her homework here too), she selected styles that had the Bali ‘look’. There was no point in selecting styles that could be bought in other parts of the world — or even in the US. We were, after all, trying to differentiate our store from the competition.

Bali styling was indeed unique. Whether due to the island being remote, the silver jewelry artisans having special skills or who knows what, Bali jewelry had two special features.

Classical Bali Chain Bracelet

The first was Bali’s hand-made rope/chain look. Highly labor intensive, (machine made rope/chain jewelry looks like, well, machine made jewelry), the man-made designs were beautiful and unique to Bali.

The Bali artisans were also skilled at carving faces and animals on small semi-precious stones. These faces were then set in silver creating beautiful pendants and brooches. Almost one-of-a-kind works of art.

When Susan finished, (all her choices were now in one previously empty tray), she would total up the cost of her selection. Since she had budgeted a certain dollar amount for each of the four factories we planned on visiting, she could add a few pieces to the tray or take a few out.

The buying process, however, was far from over.

To Be Continued……

A Silver Buying Trip to Hong Kong’s Famous Jewelry Fair

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

Not that long ago, I, Jan Brassem, escorted a bunch of American jewelers to the awsome 80,000 square ft. Hong Kong Convention and Exibition Center. (The Center, with its wing shaped roof is in the background in the picture at left.) It was March and the jewelry ‘Fair’ was in town.

The Fair, and the beautiful Centre, has grown to be the largest jewelry show in the world (so they say). This was my 15th trip and it was obvious – to me anyway — that the extravaganza gets bigger and better every year.

 

I had been guiding a group of American  jewelers around the Fair — and Hong Kong — on a “Sourcing Mission” — as I do from time to time. Their first impression of Hong Kong was shock enough, but nothing compared to their ‘wide-eyed’ astonishment of the Fair.

I even arranged for several jewelers to meet with manufacturers, outsidehk-street (1) the Centre, in an effort for them to develop a few long-term vendor/supplier relationships.

It was time to fly home. We picked up our custom made suits and shirts — and other oriental “souvenirs” — and headed for the airport. The Hong Kong Airport Express, by the way, is one of the best and, hold on to your hat, fastest in the world.

I was in my American Airlines seat, not particularly happy to sit — in one place — for 22+ hours during the flight home. Fortunately, I was sitting next to Bill, a second-generation jeweler from northern Michigan. We had an airline meal (tasted like a Brillo pad), saw a movie, read a magazine and had – sigh — only 19 hours to go.

Bill took out his laptop and started writing a Trip-Report to his Dad. When he finished, he let me read it. I thought you may find it interesting too.

                                                      INTEROFFICE MEMO

To: Bill, Sr.
From: Bill, Jr.
Subject: Hong Kong Sourcing Mission, March 4-7
Date: Martch 8.

Our first effort in buying direct form overseas was, I think, quite successful, (but very tiring). I will email you this Memo during my stopover in LA. I’ll go into detail when I get to the office next week.

Here are the some points.

1. The jewelry styling was wonderful. I never realized that each geographic region has a different design look. I thought Bali, Middle Eastern and Indian styling was especially noteworthy.

2. I spent a good deal of time with seventeen manufacturers. I bought 42 samples which will be FEDEX’d within 2 weeks. Of those 17, I had lunch with five, who could fit into our future.

3. The prices here are generally terrific — not surprising since these are manufactures’ prices. I saw several styles that we carry and, as far as I can tell, are about 45% below what we now pay.

“The prices ..I saw…here are generally teriffic….about 45% below what we now pay”

4. I also met with six smaller factories who were not exhibiting at the Fair. They seemed more innovative and eager.

5. I gave the fifteen drawings and ideas, that Sue developed and gave me before I left, to several factories. The designs will be a great nucleus for our new Brand. The factories will design them from scratch via their CAD system as soon as possible. They will be ours exclusively.

6. I know you expressed concern about their quality. I gave them our Quality Control Standards Manual. They also showed me their customer list and even some of the styles they were about to ship to the States. I don’t think quality will be a problem.

I’ll fill you in on their invoicing, payment and delivery schedules when I get back. Now that I know my way around here, this should be quicker and cheaper next year.

Bill.