Rieva Lesonsky Aug 17, 2014
Pack your bags. Wonder where you’re going Well, if you’re looking for manufacturers and suppliers, chances are you’re headed to China, though other countries may be worth exploring.
It can seem overwhelming. Where do you go Who do you talk to What should you expect After all, you’re not going on a guided tour. (Though the U.S. government offers assistance. Go to Export.gov for more information. Be sure to check out the Trade Mission schedule.) To find out what it’s like to go to China for the first time, I talked to Adam Rizza, President and Chief Creative Officer of Sunscape Eyewear.
First a little background—and disclosure. I know Adam and his brother, Wally (Sunscape co-founder) very well. In fact, they used to live next door to me. While still in his teens Wally took the entrepreneurial leap and opened a kiosk selling sunglasses in the Irvine Spectrum in southern California, the nation’s first outdoor “entertaining” center when it first opened in 1995.
Sales were good, profits, not so much. The brothers were sourcing their sunglasses in downtown Los Angeles—obviously dealing with middle men ate into their margins. So offering some neighborly advice I mentioned they needed to “go to the source” and head to China to find a supplier to deal with directly.
Fast forward a few years. The brothers have mostly left retail behind (e-tail is going strong, however) and have built a multi-million dollar wholesale operation, selling Sunscape products (sunglasses, reading glasses, optical and tech accessories) online and in national chains, such as Forever 21, Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, PacSun, Zumiez, Charlotte Rousse, Tilly’s and Hot Topic.
What was it like to go to overseas Adam Rizza explains.
Rieva Lesonsky: What made you decide to go overseas looking for manufacturers You have run a successful business for several years before venturing overseas.
Adam Rizza: We were not satisfied with the products’ style, colors and direction we were getting from local wholesalers. We also needed to cut out the middle man and save 50% on our costs.
Lesonsky: Once you decided to head overseas, did you know you were going to China, or did you think about going to other countries
Rizza: Yes, we knew it was China from the beginning. When we first started sourcing overseas in 2001, we did not have access to Alibaba and there wasn’t as much information on the Internet as you can find today. We sourced through others in the business and were indirectly fishing for information.
Lesonsky: How did you decide what factories to go to What part of China to go to
Rizza: We first went to a show in Hong Kong in 2001 and met with many factories, before we filtered them down. We learned for eyewear it was best to go to Wenzhou, China.
Lesonsky: How did you communicate with the people at the factories Did you need to hire a translator
Rizza: No, they all catered to us. Everyone we dealt with spoke English. They are very polite and have a lot of respect for each other.
Lesonsky: How many factories do you currently work with in China
Rizza: Between both our product lines (tech accessories and eyewear, we work with 15 factories.
Lesonsky: What was your first trip like I know you had planned to fly there in September 2011. After the attack on the U.S. travel became more difficult and you and Wally questioned if you should even make the journey at the time.
Rizza: Yes, we had to shift some of our plans. It was wild and scary, however, at the same time, it opened up my eyes. I was grateful for living where we live.
Lesonsky: Is working with factories in China, key to your success (
Rizza: Yes and no. The factories are great at copying styles and ideas. They are not creative. We believe the key to our success is our trends forecasts and keeping ahead of the market in terms of the styles, prints, colors etc. we offer.
Lesonsky: What advice would you give entrepreneurs thinking about making their first overseas trip
Rizza: Focus on the product you want to source. Do your research. Now that Alibaba and other sites are available, you can start relationships online and then go into the factories and ask all the right questions.
It works to your benefit if the factory feels you understand your product and your market. They will take you more seriously.
Also, do not buy anything before you sell it. Inventory can kill you.
Lesonsky: Did doing business with China change your profit picture
Rizza: Oh yes. It made a big difference and enabled us to expand into the wholesale business.