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On-The-Ground Reports from the Lucrative Traveler Conference in San Antonio, TX

Since you couldn’t be with us in San Antonio for our Lucrative Traveler Workshop, I asked Sue Wright — a freelance writer and photographer — to fill you in on what we’ve learned. You’ll find her second report below. (And if you missed yesterday’s, you can read it in our archive: http://www.thetravelwriterslife.com/sell-local-travel-stories/.)

— Lori
Lori Appling
Director, Great Escape Publishing

How One Traveling Entrepreneur Turned $500 into $80,000 her First Year By Sue Wright

Dear Travel Writer,

Merry Scott — a petite, mild-mannered woman from Georgia — started an import-export business with just $500 back in 1969. Within twelve months, she’d turned it into $80,000.  And today she and her husband Gary showed us how it’s done.

Let me start with Merry’s story…

Back in ’69, she’d just returned to the U.S. after two years spent studying in Europe, and she was determined to do three things —

1. make money, but at the same time help others less fortunate…
2. travel to exotic locales learning, discovering, and helping…
3. work, but at the same time be free from the daily grind.

Her solution? She’d bring products from other countries (places she was interested in visiting and learning about) into the United States and sell them at a profit.

Using her savings of $500, Merry bought an ad for $499 in House and Garden magazine to advertise her first product.  It brought in orders for a whopping $5,000! So Merry bought more ads — expanding to Audubon, the New York Times, House Beautiful, Smithsonian, and others.

Still more orders came in, and Merry set off for Mexico in search of adventure, people she could help, and additional items to sell.

When all was said and done, she’d turned her $500 into $80,000. And, she said, it’s easier than ever to do today.  That’s because these days you can take out free ads online to test the waters here and there. And your potential market is much larger with an ever-expanding Internet audience to appeal to.

It was at this point that a certain… how shall I put it — enthusiastic chaos — set in.

Conference attendee Eugene Price of Ecuador showed us an alpaca wool poncho that he’d picked up back home for about $10 U.S. This is a warm, soft-to-the-touch garment, with a traditional Ecuadorian design woven in.

The consensus in the room was that you could sell a similar poncho here in the States for $30 — which would give you a $20 (or 200%) return. Multiply that by whatever number of these things you sell Stateside, and that could prove a tidy business itself.

But then Gary Scott (who these days, working with his wife Merry, brings in $1.4 million/year with their import-export and related international businesses) stepped forward to remind us…

Import-export is not just a matter of finding the “right” product and selling it. In fact, doing that alone probably isn’t the best way to go about it at all.

Why sell the same exact product that other people are selling, when you could sell something unique… with no competition… and with distinct, targeted markets to appeal to?

This is just one of the many business strategies Gary and Merry have shared with us, forcing us to think beyond the obvious to expand our possibilities — and our potential profit margins.

Gary urged us… “SELL THE STORY — NOT THE PONCHO!”

And start with… “This is what I love to do. How can I make money at it?”

So let’s say you love horseback riding…

First thing you do is go back to the guild where you got that first, generic poncho. (Merry’s explained to us that Ecuador is organized into “guilds” – a concept brought over by the Spanish in the 16th century. Each village specializes in a particular market. For example, all the textile products are made in the village of Otavalo; another village designs jewelry; another leather goods, etc. — this makes shopping for possible export goods much simpler!)

Now, once there, you contract for ponchos with a horse-theme design.

The story? The poncho is woven from alpaca wool. Alpacas are a mystical animal to the Ecuadorian people; they’re raised to bring a sense of calm and peace. So design a tag for your poncho that tells the story of the creation of the poncho, and the villagers who hand-made it. Write about the calm and peace that wearing the poncho will bring to the horse and rider… you get the idea.

But we’re not done. Next visit the guild that specializes in leather goods and have the artisans there create matching chaps, a hat, and leggings that all coordinate with the poncho. Now you’ve got a package of seemingly unrelated items for horse enthusiasts, which can be manufactured for a small fraction of what you could resell them for at home.

Where do you market? Horse shows, magazines that target equestrian sports, etc. The best part? You’re the only vendor — no competition.

All of a sudden, things in the conference room went a bit nuts…

People were yelling out suggestions for other ways to “recreate” the plain old poncho. You could market to —

*** Dog lovers (A matching mini-poncho for the dog? Maybe an image of the buyer’s dog woven into the poncho?)

*** Fishermen (Add little pockets for the hooks and flys; wool keeps moisture away from the body.)

*** Children (Package with a children’s book about llamas and alpacas.)

*** BBQ chefs (A matching hat? Hot pads? A design woven into the cloth to protect the chef from burning the food?)

*** Lovers (Tap the Valentine’s Day market; heart-theme; cuddle up in front of the fireplace.)

*** Priests and others who wear church vestments (One attendee said her priest already has a specially-designed poncho.)

This energetic brainstorming went on and on — and would have continued, were it not time for the next presentation.

The lessons?

1. Don’t feel limited. Products can be enhanced to meet the needs and desires of your marketplace.
2. Personalize and customize. People respond to the idea of being unique — and don’t mind getting out their checkbooks to pay $100 – $200 — or more — for that $10 poncho.
3. Minimize your risk by taking advance orders and payment.

More on-the-ground reporting tomorrow!

Sincerely,
Sue Wright 
Writer and Photographer

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]

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