Thing is, buying stuff in India is easy, it’s the selling it all afterward that’s more tricky.
In the world of business there are those who are born to great failure, others that have it thrust upon them, while others still achieve it through hard toil and sweat of their brow. And then, once in a particularly dreamy moon, there comes one who is a combination of all three, one who might dream of selling sand to the Arabs…
Well, okay, I´m sure there are bigger clowns of business than me but I´ve yet to meet one. I began at the age of 18 in India as I came to the end of my first trip there. Money was running out and the export business seemed to be the ideal way to continue my travels; things in India are so cheap and sell for such high prices in the West that it would surely be easy to make a good profit.
I borrowed money from my family and walked into the first handicrafts shop I saw with the sign We Export above the door. I bought about 25 kilos of clay boxes and pipes, carefully selecting the design with a shrewd businessman´s eye for what would sell.
As they were clearly professionals I left it to the shop to pack my goods but I did accompany them to the post office to make sure it was actually sent. I was no fool, after all. We waded through a pile of forms and glued around 3000 rupees worth of 5 rupee stamps onto the boxes.
“This is the first time i´ve done this!” The shop owner told me excitedly. Oh.
Four months later in England, I heard a knock at the door – my parcels had arrived! But even as the postman set down the box on the steps I could hear the unmistakable sound of broken clay. I unwrapped the boxes to find that the ´professional exporters´ had packaged my fragile clay pots with one protective layer of newspaper. 90% of all I bought was smashed to smithereens.
Still, I didn´t lose heart. On my next trip to India I invested a couple of hundred dollars in paper mache and silk throws. The Kashmiri I bought them frfom was just like a friend and so naturally I put all my trust in him to pack and send them. I waited a long time for them to arrive in England. In fact, I´m still waiting, some five years later.
Then, a couple of years later, I decided to try my luck again. After all I was now older and wiser and as I was once again about to leave India it would have been foolish to pass up the opportunity to buy exotic stock. I was heading to Israel and decided that I would make a living by running an incense stall in the street.
I bought 30 kilos of the best incense money could buy (or the most expensive anyway) and prayed to every god i could think of that things might work out this time. My friends in Israel didn´t quite know what they were letting themselves in for when they gave me their addresses. One of them was living at home and his parents almost threw him out when the parcel arrived; the pungent smell of India was so strrong that even his neighbours complained.
My market reseach could have been better, I suppose. Firstly, selling on the street is not really allowed and is a very good way for a foreigner to get himself deported. Secondly, the Israelis go to India in huge droves these days and the shops in Tel Aviv were already full of incense. And lastly, there are few races in the world with a keener eye to business than the Israelis. I ended up selling it all for less than I paid for it. I probably became the first person in history to bring stock from India to Israel and make a loss.
My most recent failure was equally spectacular. It all began innocently enough. It always does. I´d met some friends in the Indian consulate in London and they told me about their latest profitable venture – they´d taken all they could carry of mirror-worked blankets from India and taken it all the way to Mexico. Apparently that stuff was all the rage there and they made a cool 5000 dollars.
I was just on my way to India at the time but didn´t have the cash to invest. Being a man more of words than deeds, I told the story at a farwel gatehring in the pub that night. A well-to-do friend took me to the side and put 1000 dollars in my hand in the understanding that we´d go 50-50 on the profits.
I went through the whole movie of watching Indian wholesalers make pained faces as I drove the prices down and down and again. Then once more I consigned my fate to the Indian postal system. i waited all summer in Europe for the boxes to arrive, assuring my partner that it would be ‘any day now’. At last I lost patience and flew to Thailand to teach English. The packages arrived two weeks later.
Various friends looked after them for a year, cursing my name each time they moved house, lugging my boxes with them. And just recently I picked them up and booked the long-awaited flight to Mexico. My investor had long since written the money off but of course it would be great if it paid off.
Although customs searched my bags, they were very happy with the gift of a packet of incense and welcomed me to Mexico. Everything was going fine but for one smal detail. The rainy season had just finished and tourism was at the year’s low. No tourists meant that the shops had no money to invest.
My friends from India were half right in their assessment of the tourist market here. Indeed, among the piles of Guatemalan textiles and blankets that filled every shop, no one had any of the Indian variety, Trouble was, no one wanted it either. i couldn’t imagine how my friends had made money here except that they had done it in the high seaon of January.
I carried my boxes around like a mule in the tropical heat to every shop in several towns. Finally, defeated and depressed, I gave it all to a dreamy old man who promised he would put it in all the shops on consignment. I expect nothing.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. And if it’s still not happening then maybe you should take a hint.
Myself, I blame India. It’s like a curse.
I have to stop writing now – I’m off to see a mine where real amber can be bought. I could make a killing selling that in Europe…