I have been unhappy with our current sparklers. They are okay. But I want the best. And I want a factory with a sense of quality to make some different versions that are not on the market anywhere yet. So, Annie, Matt, and I are pulling into a different sparkler factory, again with high hopes we can upgrade our product.
As we pull up, I notice the housekeeping is better than most fireworks factories. The building looks clean, not much litter outside (unusual at a fireworks factory). The owner greets us, takes us inside, and sets us up with tea all the way around. He looks clean cut, well dressed, a bit yuppy by Chinese standards, and looks us square in the eye when he talks.
We look at samples of sparklers and packages. Some big name US fireworks vendors. Good sign. Sparklers made for companies and countries all over the world: the US, Sweden, Russia. So, he’s not just making product for internal, Chinese consumption. He knows about exporting—also good.
We test-burn some stuff. More good news. His number 20 golds burn more steadily than mine, have a wider spark radius, and are made on a straighter piece of wire. We burn a bunch of other stuff, including some cute leetle beety 5-inchers. All looks very good.
He tells us his factory is only 6 years old. We go for a walking tour of his buildings, all spread out for safety around the side of several hill, and set in some kind of conifers, huge bamboo, and ferns. Nice atmosphere. Again, the place gets the good housekeeping Gilliam seal of approval. We go into a building and watch some sparklers being packaged. Lotsa gals sitting on stools packing stuff (no child labor, by the way, as is oft-rumored in our US press).
We check out the other buildings. There are a couple with a very large quantity of #8 golds hanging up to dry in wooden racks. This is not high tech stuff. A lotta hand work.
One red light, though. It’s dark in the building they’re working in. No lights. No heat, either (but no heat is normal here, even in downtown retail establishments.) He also does not have many people working. Could that mean his business is “off?”
That could be good for us – he could be hungry. Or it might be bad: if we give him a big order, does he have the people and capital to produce it? On time? Perhaps his business is so young that he’s undercapitalized. But his plant looks good. And I put a lot of stock in that. As Tom Peters wrote in his book, In Search of Excellence, when you get on an airplane, and you pull that tray table down, and it’s sticky and stained, you’re bound to wonder how well they take care of the engines.
Matt and I agree: the thing to do is throw him a bone. Give him a decent-sized order, far enough ahead of time, that we’re not pressed, schedule-wise. Then watch and see. My take is: he’s young, hungry guy, who will do a job for us. But I know I am an optimist. Matt’s greater experience here on the ground tempers my wanting to see a winner to make my products better. Time will tell.
As usual, I take pictures of things that catch my eyeballs. Here’s another shot of the red bundle thingys from my last post.
This is the last stop today, and our crazy renta-driver is an absolutely insane speed-freak driving us back to the office. Chinese driving is not for the faint-of-heart. Lines don’t mean anything. Which side of the road you’re on means nothing. It’s nothing to be hurtling north on a 4-lane road and have two cars abreast passing a cop car driving southbound, straight at you on your side of the road. I am not making this up. At a toll booth, our cazy southbound driver actually tried to cheat and go thru the northbound booth (big red X light over it)!
Reminds me of when Tom Weidlein tried to sneak across the border INTO Iraq (for the fun of it, that’s Tom) in the early 80′s. They nabbed him and threw him into Abu Ghraib before being in Abu Ghraib was cool. Nobody back home even knew he was missing until we saw him on the front page of the Washington Post, released, unharmed from Saddam’s prison.)
Our driver gets caught, too, and they back his young ass up, and move him into the right lane. But nobody really cares. It’s just normal driving in China.
Nighttime in Liuyang, 18th floor of the Yintian Hotel.
I’m on the balcony looking down at the Liuyang River. Gold lights from the bridge silhouette the sampans below.
Brightly lit up pagoda in the background on a hill through the light mist across the river. Misty and cold. Fireworks going off nearby in different directions. You can hear the pops and salute bangs. Leaning on the balcony rail, Tsingtao in hand, taking it all in. Chinese background music actually playing somewhere nearby, like the score for this particular, perfect movie scene. The close of another fine day in the fireworks capital of the world.