The new Yintian hotel in Liuyang is another steal. Great room, way up near the top, super view of Liuyang, with an honest-to-Buddha pagoda all lit up on top of a little hill across the river from me, overlooking the town and the river. The room comes with not one, but two free breakfasts, every day. You wanna bring a friend to breakfast? No problem; it’s on the house.
And what a breakfast. Everything imaginable from regular ole Western eggs and suchlike, to a huge variety of fruits and Chinese food. Matt steers me over to the dim sum, little steamed packets of orgasmic stuff of every shape and taste imaginable. I’ve had ‘em back home, but believe me; the stuff that passes for Chinese food in the US is NOT!
Hey, I have to fess up: I didn’t come over here to look at fireworks. I came here to do some serious eating. And when even the hotel food is incredible, you know you’re in the right place. If you come to Liuyang in Hunan, be forewarned, it can be hot schtuff, as you will see.
After chewing the fireworks fat over dim sum and coffee, Matt and I headed next door to his office. While he met with his staff, I got to work checking packaging and labels, and testing the samples they had gathered for me of each different product in my current order, as well as some first-pass prototypes. Most of this was stuff like sparklers and poppers, so I just tested right there in the office with a window open to get rid of the smoke.
You need to understand Liuyang is a Fireworks Town. People test anything, anywhere. It’s the way it’s done. Nobody complains. It ain’t like where we live. Nosireebob.
I found some problems. Some with product performance, some with packaging, and one product I just don’t like the look of. Not one bit. I make notes, take photos, decide what changes have to be made.
For some of the items, all I have to do is give Matt a list of changes, and they will get done without any further work on my part. Other changes cannot be made this time. We’ll have to make the changes next time; production is too far along, and we definitely want my container to ship around the end of the month. But we find a couple of problems and opportunities that we really need to go to the factories to work through.
So, Matt, Annie-our funny and fabulous translator, and I head off to visit factories. Now, some of the products I’m buying are fireworks, but many are not. And, in some cases, I’m not going tell you exactly what we were looking at, because, frankly I don’t want my competitors knowing about these new products before we get them. The first stop is for one of my secret products.
Matt had gotten some samples from one factory for this product. To me, everything about them was wrong. The packaging sucked. The product didn’t look good. They didn’t work consistently. Basically, they were just made sloppily, and obviously without any love.
They were so crappy, I told Matt I wouldn’t take them. Not only have I rejected the product, but I think it’s so bad, that I don’t even want to get the manufacturer to try and fix it. It’s that bad. Two weeks to go before my container ships, and I have just rejected 25% of what goes into it. This is a big deal.
So, now we’ve arrived at a restaurant out in the country to have lunch with the woman who owns another factory that makes this product. (I have high hopes their quality is superior.) Now, I could write a whole blog post just about any one of the meals we get here. The locals laughed at me taking lots of pictures of what to them is commonplace and ordinary. But there’s one from lunch that you need to see: steamed fish completely covered in a nice crust of crushed red pepper. Also swimming in about half an inch of red pepper and chili oil. I think they only left the head and eyes alone we’d know who we were eating.
This is how you meet the people you’re going to buy from—over eye and mouth-watering firecracker fish and tea. It’s very much part of the process over here. They meet you and they feed you.
Annie handles a slew of questions I have for the factory owner. I get good vibes. The owner, a woman, looks me in the eye when she talks. She’s straight, no b/s. I think I see integrity. Auspicious. I really want the product her factory makes. In a big way. This one visit is the most important one of the trip for me.
We leave the restaurant and drive over to her factory. We get a tour of the production areas. I snap millions of pictures, to the eternal glee of the (mostly) women there doing the work. This product has a lot of parts, some of them very small. I see a lot of attention to detail. I see people looking at the parts carefully, checking how they fit together, clipping and trimming off stray bits. Best of all, I see big boxes and bags of rejects, at every workstation. That is a very good sign.
I see the product finally assembled, and look at them. Carefully. I know this product already; so I know what it should look like when done well and finished. This product is done well.
The owner lady takes us to the testing area with a big box of products. Cups of tea come, and big plate of pomelo sections. Always food and tea. Always. The samples come in a lotta colors and configurations. We test them all. Matt has never actually seen one these work they way they are ‘sposed to. I wait with bated breath for the first one to be lit. Hoping. Hoping it’ll work right.
It lights, it does its thing, and it is absolutely flawless!
And we light one after another, and they all perform perfectly. I am happy. Really happy. More than any of the products in our order this time, I have come half way around the world to get this particular one right. Four hours ago, I had rejected our order for the product completely. Now, we have an excellent product and, after some haggling and compromise, a promise from the owners that they can get my order for 200 cases finished by the end of the month! In time for our scheduled shipment.
This has made my whole trip worth it. I know this product. I know how much people like it. And I know how to sell a lot of them. And as far as I know, nobody else in the US has them. So, if I can get my hands on this first 200 cases, I can do what I like to do best in this business—marketing. I know who wants the product, how to reach them, and how to sell them. It’s just getting a good, solid product that remains. And it looks good in that respect. It’s never a sure thing over here, of course. Something can still go wrong. But at least we have all the pieces in place.
So, after many smiles, hand-shakes, and thank-you’s, off we go to visit a new sparkler factory.
Here’s a puzzle for you. It has two parts: What do you think the red things are, and what are they doing? First person to post a comment with the right answer to both parts wins a ????? I’ll give you the answer next time.
Chief Cook & Bottle Washer