One Bad Product, A Close Call

Written by Harry Gilliam

Topics: Consumer Fireworks, Travel, Weblogs

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.  Chinese Dim sum 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.

Chinese dim sum breakfast 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.

dyed red firework sticks set out to dry

Harry Gilliam
Chief Cook & Bottle Washer

15 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Smokin Joe says:

    I’ll try for incense sticks for cerimonial burning being fanned out to dry. In short nice smelling punks

  2. Jeff Gleason says:

    They are the hair for the little rubber trolls you put on your pencil as a kid.

  3. It looks to me like bottle rocket sticks _being_dyed – placed in containers full of dye, and the dye being pulled up via capillary action??

  4. allan king says:

    Looks like sea urchins drying on a bed of salt.

  5. Alan says:

    It looks kind of like precut fuse set out to dry by the way they are fanned out. If you look close the individual pieces seam to be twisted.

  6. John Miller says:

    Did any of you guys check out the video Chinese fuse & Firecracker Mfg advailable from Harry it shows a process that looks very close to this.

  7. Jack says:

    They are the things inside popers that go pop. From the outside they look like a small roll of paper with a string coming out. When the string is pulled it pops. They are probably drying or waiting to be used.
    My second guess is incense that is drying or waiting to be packaged.

  8. Michael Janoplis says:

    I think they are smaller than rocket sticks; and they seem to bend really easily if you look at the bottom where they are tied together.

  9. Wyatt P. says:

    I belive John has the correct answer, they have to be bottle rocket sticks, they look exactly like ‘em, although it is possible that they are for sparklers as well. We’ll just have to find out! Hey Harry, are those mystery fireworks you’re getting going to be sold at Skylighter?

  10. William Kupp says:

    Hmmmm … are they lift charges inside red decrative wrapping paper set aside to dry or cure?

  11. J boardman says:

    Must be bottle brushes for the chief bottle washer.

  12. john miller says:

    Hey Brett I think they would work well on those little bottle rockets, which is what I meant.

  13. Dave Bacon says:

    Since bamboo has been taken I wiil go with bundles of straw that are soaking up some sort of pyrotechnic solution. They are wicking rather than drying.

  14. Brett Hallden says:

    Well John, I believe you are right on the bamboo, but not for rockets as they are too short. How about sparkler sticks?

  15. john miller says:

    I beleive these are bamboo sticks set up for drying after being dyed. They are used for rockets.

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