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Every Friday, I post a small insight into running Curio City and/or Blue Hills Editorial Services. My most recent posts are directly below. You can also start with the first post, or use the subject labels to the right to home in on particular topics. Feel free to comment on anything that interests you.
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Friday, October 05, 2007

He's an Important Exportin' Man



-- The New Riders of the Purple Sage, “Important Exportin’ Man”

I did not grieve when the USPS broke my international shipping module last May by changing their rate structure. I’ve sold to customers in countries ranging from Canada to Japan and Brazil. As much as I welcome every sale, foreign addresses always make me cringe. Canada is the worst. Besides the usual complicated Customs forms, NAFTA countries require me to testify in a “certificate of origin” that my made-in-China products originate in the USA. Lying always makes me uncomfortable, but I'm told that the form must be fudged to avoid scrutiny and tariffs.

Importing from Canada is a pain, too. Big Schnozzes take more than two weeks to get here from the wrong side of Canada. My last reorder was mis-addressed, got returned to Vancouver, then reshipped to me. It took six weeks and two pieces arrived damaged.

Besides paperwork hassles, I also lose money on payment conversion and processing fees. Not only are export sales extra work…they’re also less profitable.

Last winter, a Chinaman tried to buy a Neverlate clock. He couldn’t put a charge through because his Mastercard and address information were in Chinese characters. We tried to arrange manual payment via money order. His bank wouldn’t sell him dollars, and Citizens Bank would not accept “renminbi” (“the people’s currency,” or "Commie yuan"). After I finally gave up on the sale, I tried to find him a local source. After all, American Innovative gets their Neverlates from China. But of course they would not tell me where their clocks are actually made. Not that it matters; the Chinese factory makes them exclusively for export. My would-be customer couldn’t have gotten one if he’d lived next door to the Neverlate factory.

Is there enough irony in that paragraph for you?

Imagine how I laughed last week when somebody tried to pitch me foreign-language website optimization. “I have noticed that your website cannot be found on foreign search engines…” Thank the gods! Sure, I need every scrap of business I can get. In spite of the hassles and expense, I will be relieved when the Sunshop 4 upgrade brings international shipping back online. But I’m sure not going to spend money pursuing foreign sales!

On the importin' side.... There is real money to be made by importing directly from China, rather than buying from wholesalers as I normally do. The products themselves cost next to nothing, allowing very attractive markups even after shipping and tariffs. So I thought I'd found the gravy train when I stumbled upon a couple of websites that enable small companies to import manageable quantities – hundreds, rather than thousands -- of products from China. That didn’t pan out. Two inquiries via one portal went unanswered. Another Chinese exporter who supplied two of LY’s popular products ignored six separate inquiries about a large reorder. Even if I’m too small to be worth their bother, you’d think that they’d at least acknowledge their own Contact form.

From where I sit, globalization is a one-way street. Products from China flood in, and they don’t go back out.

Despite all that griping, I would welcome some international sales right about now. Thanks to a $50 returned item, this week is on track to be the third-worst of 2007, and my fourth-worst of all time. My paycheck for this week is struggling to reach $20.

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