Opening my office in China.
I hope these next two blog posts will get you up to speed.
Firstly I have to say thank you to everyone out there that has supported me and believed in me enough to send me their hard earned cash all the way to China, to a guy they have never met, on the trust that I would send them the goods they ordered. I have experienced growing pains and made some mistakes but you have stuck with me and together we have looked at the bigger picture. I really mean it when I say that I wholeheartedly appreciate your business and I hope I too can support your businesses as we grow together.
Sorry, that sounds a bit intense but I’m serious, Thank you.
Let’s start right at the beginning, My first apartment in China and the “Dining table” office. Like many foreigners here working in foreign trade I started off working from a serviced apartment which was used as a base when not visiting markets and factories. From here and the shoddily built Chinese glass dining table I did my first deals, wrote my first blog posts and drank my first Chinese rice wine. The latter of which I can say won’t be happening again. My first orders were packed on what seems to be a necessity in any Chinese apartment – the L shaped corner sofa and my “stock” was kept in the hallway.
This is probably the kind of set up a lot of you eBay traders are more than familiar with, the only difference being while my aircon is on your heating is on. During this time I had my first full time Chinese assistant working with me. She was essential in helping me get the day to day “life” tasks out of the way, helping me get used to things on the ground here and showing me the places to start sourcing goods. It has to be said that without an assistant things would simply be impossible here, hardly anyone speaks English and the way everything operates here is completely backwards by western standards.
As I started to get me feet on the ground a bit and became familiar with the locations I was spending the most time in I decided to move to a different apartment close to these areas with an office a couple of bedrooms I could use for stock and space for some staff in the future. It became apparent that a large apartment like this in China is very expensive, much more so than in the UK. Much to the annoyance of the local letting agent I viewed about 30 apartments from entry level 1 bedroom suites at 500 GBP per month to duplex penthouses at 3800 GBP per month – well I was a bit curious.
I settled on a place close to the main electronics and clothing markets with 3 bedrooms for 1100 GBP per month. Having to pay 600 GBP commission to the agent and 3 months deposit made me feel very very ill inside. Yes this is a lot of money, I was blown away how much apartments cost here but like everything in China there is no middle ground. The price is either very low and below western standards or high for that “Imported” lifestyle. As I knew I was living, working and storing stock here I could just about justify it to myself.
This apartment evolved into a pretty dynamic workspace with me using one bedroom as my office, one for storing expensive stock (Less expensive stock was kept in a small warehouse), one bedroom was for me to sleep in and the large 70m2 living room was used as the main office space for 2 staff. The living room was the main draw for this apartment as I new I wanted an open workspace where I could work with the staff and keep an eye on what they were doing. Yes YouTube is banned in China but they have plenty of their own time wasting websites here.
Those of you who have been working with me for a few months now will be familiar with the fact I worked from about 8 am till 4 am every day. This was possible because I was either in factories replying on my iPad or living 5 meters from my office. The space is great and it has an awesome view of the famous Pearl River.
I got things really cranked up in this apartment and at its “Peak” housed me and 3 staff with orders being collected daily by our local delivery driver who sent my goods to Hong Kong for them to be shipped on by FedEx to their destinations worldwide. This is where I honed in my carton packing skills.
The security staff at the apartment were getting pretty annoyed having to escort delivery boys in and out of the compound so it was looking like time to move into a dedicated office and warehouse.
Next came the complicated decision of what step to take next. It does look like I will be in China for the foreseeable future. Business is moving along nicely and I love being in a country where I feel like I am at the bare bones of what is happening. With this in mind I feel a little more comfortable entering long leases and committing to things that I would not have felt happy with a few months ago. I visited a lot of office buildings and decided to go with a newly built complex about 3 minutes walk from my house. The deciding factors being that it’s new and 3 minutes walk from my house…. I signed up and started moving in about 4 weeks ago. We are just about settled in now.
Next was buying all the necessities for the new office from things like Desks to Bonsai trees. Luckily for me I am in the cheapest place in the world for things like this. Even with this in mind though I could not help implementing some of the cost saving measures that have become hard wired into me over the past 10 years of being in business. Things like buying the office computers. For 6 new desktops PC’s even here in China I am looking at 600 GBP per unit. From my experience of buying the assets of bankrupt companies I know that ex lease PC’s from closed down offices go for next to nothing so I tracked down a dealer specialising in computers from offices that have closed up shop. This was an interesting experience wandering around a warehouse stacked high with desktop PC’s. This saved me about 3000 quid though so I was happy to do so.
I also got to buy some things that I never thought I would need but even though I am far from a high roller here they are a basic requirement of an office in China. Firstly a safe and a money counting machine, I need these because I pay a lot of our factories in Cash as a purchase price levering method. With the largest value note in China being the 100 RMB note (which is roughly 10 GBP) and my average factory purchase being around 5000-10000 GBP that’s a lot of notes to count. I run everything through this neat little desktop counting machine that chats away to me in Chinese while I insert notes into his mouth. I like to think that we have a good working relationship
Then onto the more mundane stuff like an office water cooler tower. I feel like I am on a movie every time I head over to get a cup of water. The Chinese here tend to like drinking hot water as its “Good for health” so the cooling tower also has a water heater tap for dispensing boiling water for my health conscious staff. I actually had a girl working for me that was shocked that I drink chilled water claiming that it would make me ill. I live in fear to this day.
I also bought some standard issue Chinese office goods like a Bonsai tree, Money Tree and a tropical Fish tank – all of which my assistant tell me will attract wealth – got to be worth a go then? Other novelty things like multiple time zone clocks for the main countries I export to are things that should not get me excited but strangely do. Buying artwork for the walls was hard work, I only found one shop selling western artwork and ended up with some rather cool but cliché office building skyline pictures. They only had 3 so the rest of the office is still pretty bare.
Like everything in China all the elements of the new office that I could not physically do myself took a long time. I cant really put it into words here but everything is so backwards here. It makes no sense and maybe I will never understand it. Over 2 weeks to get the internet to work for instance, in the end I had to install all the cable lines and pc outlets myself but we still lost nearly 3 weeks of work time. Still, we are in now and with some new systems in place I am hoping my modest operation will continue to evolve in this organic fashion.
So there we go. From my home office in England to a dining table in a Chinese serviced apartment to our new office building situated in the heart of the main trading area of China. All in 9 months – What a journey.
I am really happy and a little surprised with the progress so far and I hope it is a sign of things to come. But from that wobbly glass table 9 months ago to this decadent looking tank of a desk I am sat at now its all been the same theory. Long hours and hard work that, if your reading this, you will know is something that we all have come to live by.
As a testament to all the other import entrepreneurs out there here is a really cool insight into the workspaces of some of my customers from around the world. From simple to exec these are the type of guys making serious income from home and small office set ups. You would be surprised to see the simplicity of some of them but then this is a new era for internet entrepreneurs.
Mark got in touch with me with a dream, some time on his hands after leaving his job and a healthy pot of money to invest. Although he did not know exactly what he wanted to import to start with that was not really an issue and we spent countless days and nights going over possible niche market items together while on Skype. Relatively new to eBay but with a keen mind Mark has built up a strong account and with some feedback building items in place the future looks good. We now have created a specific line of products together and going forwards plan to expand this line under Marks own brand name. Exciting stuff.
A young guy with his finger on the eBay pulse Toby is always contacting me with new ideas that he thinks might just be the next big selling item from China. Not limited to eBay his ideas range from products he can sell amongst his college mates to lines he could develop a neat little business from.
Do any of you remember that young kid who bought the micro scooters on his Dads credit card and became a millionaire from it? Maybe Toby will be the next micro scooter kid?
A dedicated student of Andrew Minalto’s eBay Blueprint course Kamran came to me tooled up ready for ecommerce battle. I have had the opportunity to work with several students of this Blueprint course and just like the others Andrew had given Kamran a wealth of knowledge on selling on eBay and some solid ecommerce tips in general. This has meant that Kamran and Myself could spend our time focusing simply on good selling products. We had a good laugh together as we spent a couple of weeks chatting online going through what felt like every niche market under the sun. I was impressed with his dedication to sift through the fat to find the items he really wanted to work with and his determination paid off as we decided to go with what I feel is an amazing niche with a nice untapped potential. When you take into account that he has worked his way to the top on one of the most competitive niches on eBay he looks to have a real chance of excelling in this untapped line.
A pretty experienced online seller Anthony came to me with some great product ideas and a “lets get this thing started” attitude which meant in a very quick space of time we had gone from research to number crunching to product manufacture in under a week. Now with a hot custom made product to add to his already dynamic product line I am sure Anth’s business will continue to grow and we will be doing this process together in the same fashion many times over the next few years.
With a full time job he wants to move out of Amer contacted me to see if importing from China could be a way for him to live his dream. A new customer to me Amer decided to take products he believed in due to sales numbers on eBay. By keeping the mix small and the unit volumes high he was able to drive purchase prices as low as possible giving him a great margin on eBay and a chance to undercut the competition. Its early days for Amer but I think he will get on well with this and move closer to his goals over the next few months.
Liam is no stranger to importing and has already seen some success with various items he has sourced and brought into the UK under his own steam. He contacted me looking for a more secure way of making larger orders along with an interest in working with me directly on some of my own manufacturing projects.
His product range is broad and his mind is open to new ideas – a key to success when importing from China. If the numbers look good and it is legal Liam will sell it. As well as working with items I have sourced or had manufactured myself Liam has a constant stream of new ideas with low market competition, if I can find them or get them made at the right price then we get going on them. Infact yesterday I sourced a factory to make Liam a very specific item with really low market competition. I’m looking forward to getting the first batch back to him to see how the sales figures look in real time.
Sam has been an open and easy customer to work with. After a going through the sales figures and margins together with a quick process of elimination on the products he was interested in working with we came across a very strong looking item. Next down to the customisation and manufacturing process to get it down to the price point we needed. A change of materials and juggling around of the product features allowed us to get the pricing at a level which allows Sam to undercut the competition without compromising on the products quality.
Tipped as one of the best selling items for this Christmas and winter period we should hopefully see some exciting Results from Sam.
Bart has been working with me for a long time now and we have become good mates via the likes of Whatsapp messenger, email and Skype. Due to the nature of his product and the price points we need to get them made for we have faced some headaches together but have persevered through and ironing out the creases has now become an integral part of working together.
A truly dedicated and hardworking seller Bart has gone climbed the eBay ranks and I think he may be the number one if not one of the number one sellers in his niche. He is even giving some big household names a run for their money. An awesome achievement by anyone’s standard.
By keeping his overheads to an absolute minimum and reinvesting every cent he makes Bart has been able to go from 50 unit orders to unit orders into the thousands driving his price down without sacrificing quality and allowing him to customise his products giving him that extra USP. He really has accelerated his business at a truly impressive rate. My favorite Polish customer Bart is a true testament to learning the system, playing by the sometimes crazy eBay & Amazon rules and hopefully he will start to enjoy the success going into 2013, he certainly deserves it.
Here is a look at his new loft stock storage space he just fitted out.
Amazing to see right? Just goes to show, you don’t need much to make some serious money from eBay.
Shout out to those of you who sent me in a picture of your desk, extra thanks to those of you who tidied them! If you want your desktop included here and you are a customer of mine please email it in.
Thanks again for the support, from all of the YMC office staff, wishing you a bright future.