Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Great Bead Deluge of 2011

Well, as it turned out, I didn't have to go to Atlanta to pick up our two boxes of beads. In fact, it ended up not being an option. Security issues at Customs in the Atlanta airport would have made it far too complicated for the uninitiated, or maybe even impossible. So instead, SoS got to pay an extra $129.00 to get everything trucked from Atlanta to Mobile. And this despite all my efforts to prevent unanticipated charges.


But at this point I no longer really cared. I JUST WANTED THOSE BEADS! It was after business hours on Tuesday afternoon, and I was due to leave on Thursday morning for a weekend show in Chattanooga. I'd been shaking in my sandals at the thought of trying to make it work with so few beads to sell (and those just the picked-over remains of the ones I'd taken the last time I'd done a show there). Now our new beads might be stuck in Atlanta for the next decade or two!

But after another timing hitch or two that resulted in yet another day's delay, I got the good news. The boxes were in Mobile. I would be able to stop by Quick Delivery and pick them up on my way out of town, just before getting on I-65 to head north. It was a good thing I hadn't gotten an early start.

A very nice man loaded them into my trusty little 1997 Saturn for me, and I was off.

I barely made it around the corner before I was swerving over onto the shoulder of the road, turning off the motor, and scrounging in my purse for my nail scissors. I needed to see those beads. I needed to know that what was in those boxes was fresh bead-blood; new, heretofore unseen designs that would make our customers thrill with delight. Because I had done something I had never done before. In order to have the money to pay for this increasingly-expensive shipment when it finally arrived, I had pre-sold quite a few of the beads, offering virtual coupons for $20.00 that could be redeemed, along with first pick privileges, for $30.00 worth of merchandise once the new goods arrived. We'd gotten a wonderfully supportive response, and I desperately wanted to have a varied and superb range of choices to offer these customers who had trusted us enough to buy the beads sight-unseen.

 So what if what was in those boxes wasn't all that fresh and new? What if the new beads ended up disappointing these trusting buyers, most of whom numbered among our most frequent and loyal customers? What had I been thinking to take such a risk with their faith in my promises, and ultimately with SoS's credibility? I should have done something else to get the money. I didn't know what, but something. Anything rather than risk letting so many good customers down!

In my own defense, I knew that we had spent an unprecedented amount on the new beads. And I knew that Bernard is very good at remembering what beads we've offered in the past. But I also knew that he had mixed beads from the remains of our old stock in with the new designs he and the artisans had shopped for. And he'd been unable to enlighten me as to the ratio of the new to the old. His response to my query about how many new beads I would find in these particular boxes had been, very typically, "Some." (We always have trouble when talking quantities.) So what if these two boxes (out of the four he'd packed) were mostly full of beads that had been available on our website for almost a year? What would I tell our coupon-holders?

I attacked the tape on the first box, jabbing and slicing with the little scissors until the seals were broken. I took a deep breath, opened the top, and exhaled slowly. And then I went limp as all the accumulated stress of the last few days went streaming out of my body. I grabbed the door of the car for support.

They were BEAUTIFUL! At a glance, they looked very, very good. I opened the second box. Ooooh! Aaaahh! They were gorgeous! Not only new painted designs, but new shapes and sizes--everything I had dared to hope for. And lots and lots of different kinds.

 What a relief! It had taken two months to get them here, but they were fabulous. I was a happy Manye (Queen Mother--have I mentioned that I'm a Queen Mother? But that's a subject for another post.).


Would you like to hear something funny? I find this hysterical, but maybe that's only because I got slightly hysterical when I heard the news. After all the time and effort and stress and delays that went into getting those first two boxes over here, the remaining boxes arrived less than two weeks later--some six weeks ahead of schedule. Ahead of schedule? Nothing in Africa ever happens ahead of schedule, or even on time! What the...?

 I still don't know what happened. I had been told that Jasperdean's shipment was to leave Accra on September 1st by ship, and that sea shipments usually take maybe four or five weeks to make the crossing. Then there would be the usual week or so it always took to truck everything from New York to Bamboula, Ltd. in Pennsylvania, and then on by UPS to us in Mobile. So I'd been thinking probably mid-October. Two boxes piggybacked on one of Jasperdean's larger shipments, and a sea shipment at that. Much cheaper! Probably not very expensive at all, plus we had plenty of time to get the money together. I'd been much more concerned that the two new boxes would be delayed and wouldn't arrive in time for the holiday season. But no-ooo! They arrived on August 29th! And the two boxes I had been told to expect had somehow turned into five! The only other time we'd had a comparable amount of inventory come over at one time (in "The Great Shipping Crisis of 2009"), the charges had been over $1,700.00! And here I'd just finished scrambling to get the $500.00 or so we needed to make the final ends meet on the first two boxes. Where in the middle of this pre-holiday-shopping-season retail-limbo was I going to find the money to pay for this new and even bigger shipment?

Welcome to my world. And welcome (I guess) to the world of any artist-type learning to do business with other artist types in any third-world country. I don't know, maybe there are some who have managed to get their businesses functioning according to a more predictable routine. If so, I bow to them. I wonder how long it took them. And I wonder how much my inexperience with--okay, let's face it, my complete ignorance of--the most basic approaches to doing business anywhere has had to do with it all.

Nah! I'm convinced that if there's a rule that always holds true in starting up a little non-profit like ours, it's this: Nothing, and I mean nothing, will ever go as planned. Plan on it. Expect it. Learn to flow with it. Learn to laugh about it. Embrace it as part of the adventure. Because as Bernard (who is wise beyond his years) once said to me during a particularly trying time in our start-up phase, "These are the things that will make good stories later."

I don't know about that, but I do know this: It keeps things interesting! And somehow, things always, always work out in the end. I love my job. I'm a lucky Manye.

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