Suitcase Importer: Travel And Shop For Profit
I used to get a lot of questions about my folk art collection:
“Ohhhh, that (textile, doll, painting, necklace, weaving) is so beautiful. What country is it from?”
“When are you going back?”
“Will you shop for me?”
I have a passion for traveling to meet global artisans. That passion led not only to a lack of display space for the wares I bought but fueled a strongly held desire to create a folk art import business.
When I started, I had a lot of questions of my own: Would my business be a store? Where would it be? What investment would be required? Would I need employees? Could I make a living?
And then it hit me.
In my prior career, I exhibited at conferences for educators, so why not sell imports at conferences? Thus, Global Hands Artisans was begun, and friends’ predictions that I would be an importer came true!
Exhibiting at professional conferences, large and small gift and craft fairs, and home parties keeps the business joyfully successful. Where some importers work with one or two countries, I love traveling to a variety of developing world countries and establishing relationships with artisans. Repeat clients come rushing to my exhibit area to see what’s new and from where.
Countries as diverse as Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, Thailand, Eastern Turkey, Bali, Africa, Afghanistan, Ghana, Kyrgyzstan, and India provide textiles, copper, jewelry, baskets, spirit dolls, etc. My prices range from woven bracelets for pre-teen allowances to art worth several thousand dollars for collectors… and the entire range between.
My trips are planned based on my itch to travel as well as the inventory of folk art to sell. Basically I get to travel and shop for profit.
My goal is to purchase at the price artisans reserve for importers and sell with enough income to pay for travel, for selling expenses, and for profit.
As an example, this past fall, a trip to Central America provided new stock for the upcoming 2016 holiday shows. Nearly everything I bought was sold, so two weeks spent in Guatemala for the very recent Semana Santa (Easter) holiday have restocked my supplies for summer sales opportunities.
I am, these days, what I would call a suitcase importer. I begin a trip with empty suitcase(s) to be filled as trips progress. This keeps my costs lower. Although I’ve had purchases shipped to my home, shipping adds great expense that must be added to selling prices. Additionally, because my inventory is stocked in my garage, my overhead is quite limited.
The thought of opening a folk art store still lingers as a “fun” idea that I don’t see ever happening. Operating as a suitcase importer gives me a lot of freedom.
Now I have great flexibility to travel as well as do other activities such as give talks to groups about importing, provide training for new importers, create a website to sell inventory, work on a travel blog, research artists and folk art, provide support to schools in Tanzania and female entrepreneurs in Mexico and Guatemala, and connect with other importers.
Because I do importing pretty part-time, my income is lighter than many people aspire to but great for me. I’ve sold $6,000 plus per month during weekend holiday craft shows’ months. Fall months are especially productive, beginning August.
One of the biggest rewards, however, are the relationships I’ve built. The tagline for Global Hands Artisans is “Bridging the World Through Art.”
Working with artisans, we can make a difference in their lives as well as our own. What a way to run a business.
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