Posted on

Stay Calm and Import

Tips to importing

So I’m back blogging after what turned out to be an extended hiatus after Christmas. I’m trying to think of a decent excuse, but I’m not able to come up with an honest one.

The Christmas period went fantastically well and Sarkara is proving that good customer service, a fun retail vibe in conjunction with selling an ever increasing variety of sweets, slowly but surely increases our chances of long-term survival.

So despite sounding like a whiny Witney,  I have to tell you that one of the downers of increased sales is the need to increase my importing of candy. I HATE import order week,  the week before it takes place I begin to fill with anxiety, as I know a week of late nights, frustration and more often than not ordering errors awaits me.

I order from around four different suppliers. My big ones are in the U.S.A and the U.K where I consolidate multiple orders from multiple suppliers.  Each one works on not only a different time zone but also apparently a differing level of customer service.

Every order involves at least two late-night phone calls to the U.K to find out why something which strikes me as easy, is in reality asking someone to go above and beyond. All I ask is that my orders are delivered to my freight agent in the U.K or U.S.A and that nothing has a best before date of less than six months. But between pallet issues (they have to be fire resistant ), delivery slip-ups and sudden out-of-stocks of products  that I’ve already paid for things never run to plan.

But here’s the kicker, it turns out candy suppliers are like telecommunications companies. They all tend to have the same issues. Which means there’s no point in chucking my toys at one, as the next one will be just the same and eventually I’ll run out of suppliers and be left with no products and end up doing impromptu mimes in my store to try to make a living. Or even resort to my long (some say thankfully) buried party trick of fitting my fist in my mouth to pay rent.

Adding to supplier problems is freight agent frustrations. It’s one of those fields where people get so used to their own jargon that they wrongly and quiet frankly rudely assume that everyone else speaks it too.

I have seen many emails to my suppliers sent from my freight agents in response to simple questions which you simply have to roll your eyes at.  For example:

Freight agent: 


We have been advise that the terms are FOB”


“What does that mean exactly?”

Freight agent:


 Hope this helps

FOB, “Free On Board”, is a term in international commercial law specifying at what point respective obligations, costs, and risk involved in the delivery of goods shift from the seller to the buyer. Under the Incoterms 2010 standard published by the International Chamber of Commerce, FOB is only used in non-containerized sea freight or inland waterway transport. FOB terms do not define transfer of ownership of the goods. Ownership of the cargo is independent from incoterms. In international trade, ownership of the cargo is defined by the bill of lading or waybill.

This term FOB is also used in modern domestic shipping within the USA to describe the point at which a seller is no longer responsible for shipping cost.”

Well as you can imagine, that cleared nothing up, confused my supplier and resulted in another late night phone call to try to sort it out.

So after a few years at this and a mountain of experience at re-committing the same errors I’ve got a few tips on importing:


  1. When you find a supplier make sure they understand 100% your expectations, and requirements. Have it all in one email not in a confusing chain.
  2. Check on payment options, international bank transfers often incur a fee which ranges significantly depending on countries and banks. If you don’t allow for this fee it will be deducted from your payment and you might find your supplier not willing to send as they reckon they’ve been short-changed.
  3. Speak to them on the phone at least once so they recognise you’re a person with feelings, a family and an accent.
  4. Don’t threaten them with leaving them….they don’t care that the small store in Wellington, New Zealand stops buying. That realisation truly hurts.

Freight agents

  1. Go meet them, put a face to the emails. Ask them to explain freight ‘norms’ and jargon which you may not know.
  2. Get insurance
  3. Boats will get delayed, your cargo will get dumped for more important stuff and wharfies go on strike heaps! So give yourself 1-2 weeks breathing space.
  4. They don’t really understand customer service. As a generalisation (read not everyone!) do not expect to ever hear “I’m sorry, we mucked up, we take full responsibility”. Stay calm, state your resolution and don’t get worked up about it (trust me, it’s never gotten me anywhere).

Ultimately as you get to know your suppliers and how they work things will run more smoothly. Although I can’t lie, importing tends to run under Murphy’s Law so never get too comfortable.

Leave a Reply