“Oh, I just had to come see your exhibit table with all the bright colors!”
“Did you make all of these things?”
“Where do your items come from, and how do the women get their money?”
A few other questions fly at me, and then almost invariably, someone says, “Ohhhhh, I’d just LOVE to do this.”
When I tell people that I work with women’s cooperatives in foreign countries to create markets for their folk art—which significantly enhances my travels—that’s when a conversation can seriously begin about importing.
I started the company Global Hands Artisans in 2005 because of my love of travel, of folk art, of helping other women, and of selling something that makes a difference in people’s lives. As a social entrepreneur, one of my goals is to help others begin their importing entrepreneurship and help artisans to support their families.
So, what would a person interested in becoming an importer want to consider? There are many questions to answer, but I have developed some ways to discover if importing is right for you.
First, I like to look into a person’s business background. Do you have experience in selling products? Or have you been involved in the details of running a business? Would you be looking for full-time income, or see your business as a part-time venture? There needs to be a realistic look at the financial investment, which can be small but is still often necessary, to begin importing.
As a potential importer, you also want to honestly assess whether you’re self-motivated and able to work independently. Also, how much time will you have available to put into the business? And how much of a risk-taker are you for a business start-up?
After seriously appraising if an import business suits your personality and experiences and coming up with a “let’s do it” result, then you need to consider what kind of a traveler you are. Do you prefer highly scheduled days, or are you a spur-of- the-moment explorer? How comfortable are you with initiating conversations and questions with villagers, with seeking adventures to discover artisans and their locations, and with going into artisans’ homes and studios? It helps as an importer to be enthusiastic about discovering people and things in your travels.
Next, you should ask yourself, where will I go? What products are you interested in, and where do you hope to find them? It could be a range of items from different countries, or a focus on a specific country or a specific type of product. As an example, will you work only with textiles from Central America, or only with products from one or many women’s cooperatives? Or do you want to offer a variety of crafts from a variety of countries?
By the time you as a future importer have thoroughly answered these beginning questions about your background and temperament, your travel style, and the products you’d be interested in importing, you’ll either have a gleam in your eye with anticipation and excitement and a heart that blinks a “go for it!” sign, or your gut will have told you that this isn’t the right opportunity for you. But it never hurts to ask yourself the questions!