As part of the Pakistan Handmade program, the day after the Expo, we met again with the business owners. We would follow up and give positive critiques of the products the Pakistani businesses developed for the US and possibly to place orders.
I was interested in the possibilities of fostering these businesses primarily because this was truly their first exposure to the US market.
The buyers were divided into groups, making sure there was a representative from each venue present. I was in with Stephanie of World Finds' (wholesaler), Jean from SERVV (huge catalog retailer and wholesaler), Michelle from CharityUSA (another huge online retailer) among others. I felt very small compared to them. I only buy for my one store.
It was a great education to hear the buying process. I believe the buyers learned as much from each other as did the Pakistani business owners. The process used by SERVV was precise and thorough, starting with an application that is reviewed by board members. It could take six months to process an application and even then, there is no guarantee they will buy. The price is a big factor with some of the large orgs. since they need to mark things up 4 to 5 times. I didn't know that. I only mark things up 2-3 times but then my overhead is not as great.
I found that there weren't many orders placed, which must have disappointed the participants. I was able to place orders and order samples with a full commitment to move ahead in as a retailer. I was happy that I could at least do that. But then, I am so grateful for this opportunity. I have said time and again, I need producer groups that can make large quantities. Of course, I don't want to overwhelm the artisan and don't want to change their way of life drastically. The last thing I want to do is industrialize cottage industries. That's not my mission. But that's not what many of these businesses were.
This trip had me questioning my mission. I have long said that I want to open five stores throughout the country. I love setting up stores, creating marketing materials that enhance the products' value, connecting shoppers with products in a meaningful way. But as I sat in this room, as we helped these women to flesh out their businesses, talking about what we felt appealed to the US market, I was inspired.
I get requests from newly opened stores, newly formed orgs., stagnant businesses asking how to grow. I am asked how I got publicity, how I found my sources, how I wound up in Africa and now Pakistan. I see so many people questioning their life's path. Looking for answers.
I came home from this trip wondering what it all means.
Sure, I now had fabulous new products - that's the basis, the grounded element for the trip. But what was the reason it was offered, why did it come about? I have a theory. I'll share it with you in my next entry.