3 Brown Girls Doing International Business is who we are. We take on this introduction because, in our years of being in the importing and export arena people have found it “rare” that 1- We are women doing international trade and 2- Because, we are minority women doing international trade. So, why not have fun with it? It’s in our nature!
We’re brown girls who love all things international business and serving others. We own and operate iBrand Matchmaker International Trade Company. What we do has many tiers… 1. We place innovators (small business owners, designers, inventors) in global relationships that work. Those that may not have access to the trusted manufacturers we’ve come to build long-term, trusting relationships with. 2. We source and sell unique and high-quality products that meet the demographics and demands of group buying/deal sites (i.e., Groupon, LivingSocial, KGBDeals, etc) and lastly we source products for individuals who want to get their hands on all types of lifestyle products that are different and hard to get.
It all started 10 years ago when I was selling products on eBay. I’d often find that the ‘power sellers’ on eBay weren’t based in the USA. They had companies that would drop-ship the products purchased on Ebay to their customers. And most all these ‘drop-ship’ companies were based in China. I then started to do my homework to find out how I too could buy direct to help boost my overall bottom-line. And so it began…. The myth is that anyone can order from China without problems…. Well, let me nip-that-in-the-bud my friends!
I’ll tell you why part of that is true and part of it is a ‘lesson to be learned.’ After ordering a few times with success I was on a roll. That was until I spent another $4,000 of my hard-earned, 9 to 5 dollars to invest into my eBay business. Well, I got burned, more than once… A lot of crooks set up shop on several China based websites and post pictures of merchandise adding rock bottom pricing that looks quite appealing to the average consumer. And you buy! Then comes the times when you spend your hard earned dollars on the next big hit and when you get it, it’s not what you thought! A lot of sellers and companies in China compromise the quality of their merchandise and use the cheapest material because….ONE, because you can’t return it…. TWO well..Ahem! Who are you gonna tell? No one… it’s just your loss. That’s the “distance barrier”
Lastly the other round of issues you WILL run into is dealing with our friends “United States Customs,” I know you know who they are. They control what comes into our country and what goes out. So, this means you’d better have your ducks in a row and you’d better know how to fill out all the important documents (declarations, bonds, insurance, etc, etc) or hire yourself a damn good Customs Broker before you “risk” losing your hard-earned dollars AND all of your goods; due to seizure, unpaid tariffs, duties, etcetera. You get the picture? It’s not so easy…… It’s costly.
After years of trial and error, building great “global” relationships, researching/studying, taking extensive import and export courses online and finding ourselves some mentors (Tim & Nick) over at “The Elevator Life” our “aha” moments began….. We had to “engage” ourselves in the best way possible for this business to flourish to its full potential. We knew that this was for us. Because, it is an untapped market; at every networking mixer, business conference, or business seminar we’ve only encountered FEW women who were in this line of business and certainly not minority women. We made it a point to immerse ourselves into this business 24/7. Even while working other jobs to help supplement our business operating expenses. I set out to make this thing even more real by planning our very first on the ground visit to China.
We consulted with Tim and Nick and the rest was history. These are two guys that left their home state to relocate to China (a place unknown to them) for what they loved! And for almost 3 years they’ve lived what they called “The Elevator Life.” They export wines from all over the United States into exquisite China establishments and they have other ‘prominent’ ventures working in their favor….
“We could do THIS!!” I said… We have the desire, the passion, the hustle and the know-how to acquire anything we put our minds to. So, 7 months before-hand we hired ourselves an assistant who is actually there, speaks great English and can get the job done on our behalf. Nancy knew just what to do to make our lives easy and the journey worthwhile. Booking our meetings, visiting factories on our behalf, quality assurance checks, purchasing train tickets, translating and the list goes on… She did it all.
Finally, we touched down and the rest is history.
We set out to meet with some of the best factories in the world. Factories that supply the IKEA’s, Wal-Mart’s, Target’s, Avon’s and many others…. Our #1 goal in meeting with these factories was to ensure they were compliant with USA standards.
What we learned/liked about the Chinese culture is that, there are so many interesting aspects to it, as with many other countries.
As foreigners into the country we got a lot of stares the whole time we were there, everywhere we went. They looked at us as and wondered who we were, where we were from, what we did, and why we were there. They stared at us in amazement if we sang, danced, or just had a hairstyle that was different than theirs, such as French Braids. The people of China can be very nice and hospitable especially when it comes to doing business. One of the things we like about the culture is that, no matter what nationality you are, they like to establish what they call “guan xi” which is a personal relationship, a friendship so to speak before “Making Business” as they would say. To them you’re highly valued and treated with respect. In China, no matter what position one may hold within a company, President, Vice-President, C.E.O., etc. a meeting will still occur. In the U.S., nine times out of ten that wouldn’t happen because the average big top executive, owner of a 500 fortune company, or any company with a household name, won’t take time out of their busy schedules to meet with you if you’re not a heavy-hitter, or they don’t feel you’re on their level. Respect and loyalty is really important in the Chinese culture. Once you establish communication and they feel like they can trust you, it can be the beginning of something great.
Another thing that we love about them is that they’re resourceful, creative, innovative, and they stick together.
As a race they are a powerful force.
While planning our trip to China, we didn’t know what to expect when it came to the types of food we would be eating during our stay. However, we did some research and found out that there were some places that offered western food. We were excited about that, but boy were we in for a big surprise. After arriving in Shanghai, we were afraid to eat certain things like fresh vegetables, because it was said that they wash them with water that can be harmful, being that they have a poor water system. We were also afraid to eat different types of meat because we didn’t know exactly what it was, and to us anything other than what we were used to at home, gave us a chilling feeling to even think about ingesting it. Even though a lot of it smelled and looked delicious, we were still reluctant to try certain things. We found ourselves everyday asking each other “Okay guys what are we going to eat today” sometimes we had to settled for something we liked but really didn’t want to eat. We tried so many places from McDonalds to KFC, to Burger King. None of it tasted the same but during the last couple days of our stay we discovered Subway, which at that point became our best friend. We thought finally something that taste like the food at home.
There were a few Chinese restaurants that we tried but just weren’t hitting the spot. One of the things that we quickly came to see, was that they never drink cold drinks during or after meals. They would always have some sort of tea, coffee, hot milk or even just plain hot water, which is said to help with digestion. You’ll very rarely find a store with cold drinks. Most of the time they would just be sitting in a cooler that wasn’t on. At every meeting we had they would always offer us water, tea, or coffee, always hot. Sometimes they didn’t ask they would just bring it to you. The hospitality was impeccable. Although we eat Chinese food in the U.S., it was a great experience seeing the food served and prepared in the heart of China. Despite some of the obstacles we faced during our trip, we never let that take away our focus.
Prior to our arrival in China, we had a purpose for going there and planned accordingly to seize every opportunity, and execute our plan for doing business there, and so we did successfully.
Now when it comes to traffic in China you better watch out. We had never seen anything like it living in the U.S. Something as simple as crossing the street took strategy and focus. For some odd reason the cars, trucks, vans, bicycles, motorcycles, wagons or anything else you can think of that operates on wheels, does not yield to pedestrians. Although they have stop lights, stop signs, and all of the other traffic signs we’re suppose to obey, it’s almost like there’s no rules of the road. They will definitely hit you if you don’t get out of the way. Everyone is always in a rush to get to wherever their going. Red lights don’t mean a thing because they run them, oh and as for red arrows they still turn on those. It was unbelievable!! In the U.S. a pedestrian would have the right of way to cross the street and any vehicle that’s able to proceed would have to yield to them by law…….oh not in China. You bet your bottom dollar you will be hit if you’re not paying attention. They make their own rules of the road. The traffic is chaotic. There were times it took us like 15 minutes to cross the street because the cars, trucks, bicycles etc. never stop coming even if the light changed. There were numerous times we seen collisions almost happen the whole time we were there. They travel all times of the day and night nonstop. They even do photo shoots in oncoming traffic. Yes that’s right in oncoming traffic. This is another thing that goes on everyday, ALL day nonstop. If you ever visit China and you have to ride in a vehicle, get ready to feel like you’re in a video game. Changing lanes every two seconds with no signal, almost side swiping other cars that didn’t know you were getting over, traveling at top speed resulting in excessive brake usage. China definitely gives a new meaning to crossing the street, and driving you better believe it.
Talk about fashion sense. Chinese are some of the most fashionable people we’ve ever seen. The way they express themselves in the fashion world was astounding. They have a way of wearing an outfit and shoes in a way you’ve never seen before, that to us in the U.S. would be considered as “Not matching.” In China, you can be whoever you want to be without being judged, or people staring at you like crazy. Different styles and funky colors are the norm for them. They’re not as coordinated as we are in the U.S. when it comes to fashion. We may take hours figuring out what we want to wear and they can just grab anything out of their closets within seconds, put it on and rock it. They don’t worry about what people think of what they’re wearing. Everyday we found ourselves saying “OMG, look at those shoes, that jacket, that shirt, those pants, that purse, or that hat. They definitely created some of the hottest trends in the shoe and clothing game for sure. A lot of people don’t know that China is where the majority of things that we have in the U.S., originates. One of the most exciting things about being there was actually getting to see how some of those things are created right in the factories, like shoes, clothes, furniture, hair extensions, garbage bags and more. What an amazing experience, Love it!
“Shopping On Them Foos”
A “term” our girl Syria came up with… lol
This can be exciting and draining all at the same time. Prior to arriving in China we knew we were going to get some shopping in when we were free, but we had no idea of what it was going to be like. It’s so many stores that sometimes it’s hard to decide which one to go to first, until something catches your eye. This is where it all begins. Shopping in China can be a bargaining and negotiating showdown. However, in the end you’ll usually win. Once you’ve made your first purchase, everyone wants you to shop with them. They automatically assume you have a lot of money when they see that you’re a foreigner, especially if they find out your from the U.S. Sometimes they’ll follow you, call you, or even grab you by the arm trying to direct you to their store. It’s hilarious. Chinese can be very aggressive and persistent so you have to stand your ground and be firm when it comes to negotiating. You’ll see all types of things, some things you never seen or even heard of. In certain areas, when stores close, people set up outside 10 O’clock at night where you can continue shopping. Now we definitely had never seen that before. It seems like they don’t sleep. Shopping in China was awesome and definitely an interesting experience. I can’t wait to go back.
How do we inspire others?
We inspire others by doing what we love, doing the unthinkable, and never quitting. To us it’s all about finding your passion and making it work for you. In our minds anything is possible if you believe in it, and this may sometimes require taking a leap of faith. Sometimes people don’t know their full potential, and may even want to do some of the things that we’re doing, or have done, but just don’t know how to do them. Some simply have great ideas but don’t have the drive to follow through. We’re constantly creating, building and brewing new ideas to offer products and services to those who want and need them. I also believe people are inspired because we do so many things all at once, and because we’re young ladies they figure if we can do it they can do it. We love being an inspiration to those who aspire to do great things to succeed.
Why do we want to help others start their own brands?
We want to help others start their own brands because we’re passionate about helping others. We have a lot to offer when it comes to branding. We can help with importing and exporting, locating suppliers, sourcing products, quality control, product launch, etc. We believe everyone has to start somewhere, and giving back to people just as others do for us is key.
We’ve learned from the best and have various sources in which we use as tools to do all that we do. By helping others bring their ideas to life, our blessings continue to flow.
We took an opportunity to travel to China head on. Before making a plan or even thinking what my purpose of going was. However, I felt that if I missed out, an opportunity like this would never present itself again. I said “YES” before thinking about what the process to get to China was (I just knew that I had to get to the place that I had only seen on television). I knew that I had ordered plenty of products over the years, direct from China and other places but Whoa! How would I speak to them, how would they understand me, who could I trust with being a business translator for us, how could I live now in order to get to where I needed/wanted to be, what did my savings look like???
OMG! How much would it cost to get there, what is my budget, who would care for my children while I’m gone because they couldn’t miss school? There were many more questions on my mind but the number one question was, what would I tell my job (my main cash flow and income)?
An opportunity to travel abroad, to establish business relationships with companies, to help build trust and understanding of our American culture and how we do business, to understand their culture and how they do business, to help people “less fortunate” (which I considered myself to be until now) build a brand off of less money than the “ordinary” business owner, to cut out the middle man whose prices are more than 10x’s the norm, to educate ourselves on the process of creating our own brands. By going directly to the source you’ve saved yourself tons of money. Our goal is to accommodate and satisfy our clients and also make them feel confident in our overseas “partners,” our auditing process, product quality, work conditions etc. Most of all proving to myself that the phrase “take the bull by it’s horns” is a very true statement. That I could do whatever I put my mind to. I am smart enough to “pull it off.” All successful people aren’t Einstein’s and it takes a special kind of person to work against all of the odds that are already against you. I pondered, what do I have to lose if I take this leap of faith? The real question should’ve been, with faith, why wouldn’t I gain what’s always been waiting for me? I know that both questions may sound alike but worded differently but only those that have experienced what I have or is looking forward to the experience, would understand.
When did this wise decision come about?
LaToya approached us in late December 2011, with the idea of traveling to China for the Canton Fair located in Guangzhou, China the end of October 2012. The Canton Fair is deemed one of the biggest fairs in the country. At this fair you would meet innovators, vendors, and check out some of the world’s greatest creations before they ever hit the market. We would also exchange “name cards,” (business cards) and meet with some of the businesses after the business day ended. Also on the working agenda was to set up meetings with some of the companies that we’ve already been doing business with. This would become a personal experience to create lasting “cooperation” with their companies. This was AWESOME news. We would attend the fair and have meetings in order to see products, feel them, choose them, buy them, and sell them. SIMPLE! That was our thoughts.
Can we pull this off with less than a year until we leave, what’s our budget just for booking our flight and hotel, where would we look for a business translator, we are in desperate need of a travel agent because we don’t have unlimited funds at our disposal, what about our family and domestic partners, transportation, and most of all access to western food. We definitely needed to know what the cost of living was in order gauge what expenses typically could be on a day to day basis.
Well, out of ALL of the hoopla, all of our most important questions were answered. By doing a lot of internet research, buying books pertaining to culture, reaching out to companies we order from by requesting meetings not knowing if they even allowed people to come to their factories and do quality inspections, and by signing up for different social website forums that allowed us to ask questions as well as find a professional business translator that we eventually hired.
YES, we definitely did what people would call “winging” it. We kept it professional at all times and we became “experts” in the field. We were communicating effectively with Chinese professionals even though there appeared to be a HUGE language barrier.
As a result, we’ve met with several President and CEOs of many companies. They allowed us into their personal space because they trusted us. They never judged us or turned us down, they actually offered us even more than we could imagine. Their hospitality was impeccable and far different than what we would be afforded to us in the United States. It isn’t easy at all to meet or even receive an email from the President of a MAJOR company here. Especially because we don’t have any prominent social ties. Here in the U.S. it’s run by the “It’s all about who you know” concept. If you know someone with power or pull then you can get connected to whatever you need, like employment. If you don’t know anyone, then you’ll have to do what we did and “wing” it (go and find the answers for yourself).
When doing business abroad, it’s all about ‘guan-xi’, knowledge, professionalism, how you adapt to their culture, family, and most of all RESPECT.
We hope you enjoyed our feature… To SEE all of the videos from this trip click HERE
Gumbumpers be sure to tell us what you think about this feature!
If you have an idea and you need help contact the ladies over iBrand Matchmaker for your sourcing needs.
Here are some more pics for your enjoyment… CLICK HERE