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“Creating strong personal relationships can negate many mistakes” With Dallas Clarksean

Our relationship with our primary factory is amazing. The two companies have basically grown up together. The members of the owner’s families frequently stay at each other’s houses while they’re in China or the US visiting. Both companies have...


I’d love to see people accept differences — in the US, as well as internationally. We’ve fallen into this horrible trap of rejecting everyone with a differing opinion. Maybe it’s always been that way and we’re just more aware of it now or something like that, but there’s so much divisiveness. In the end, we’re not all that different and the things that make most people different, usually wind up to be what makes people interesting. Now, I have no idea how to do that. It’s always natural to form opinions based on your life experience at the time. Even the person you think is extreme or crazy, thinks they’re doing the best they can with what they have and know. It starts with taking the time to imagine the perspective from that person’s point of view, no matter how strange it is to you. Once you do that, you can at least figure out how to start a conversation.

I had the pleasure to interview Dallas Clarksean, the COO of HalloweenCostumes.com

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

Oddly enough, I’m doing this interview from our dedicated factory in China. Ten years ago, I never could have imagined this. It’s a little surreal sitting here in the factory owner’s office helping him with design and layout decisions for the new 320,000 sq facility they broke ground on this summer.

I got into e-commerce in a pretty roundabout way. I grew up on a Minnesota family farm wanting to be an entrepreneur. The idea of having a job always seemed like a failure to me, so I got a degree in hotel/restaurant management with the intent of owning restaurants. A few years after graduation, I was managing a restaurant one busy Friday night and came to a realization. I looked around the kitchen and realized this wasn’t going to achieve what I desired, I needed to go a different route.

I tried and failed at a few different startup businesses after that. I was familiar with Fun.com (then BuyFun.com) and the success they were having. In 2010 they only had around 30 total employees, so once I came across an ad they posted for a Customer Service Manager I jumped on it. I went into the call center with three full-time representatives and started creating processes where there weren’t any.

Since then, I’ve hopped around departments doing the same things — fixing problems and creating processes. I love it. That’s why this doesn’t feel like a job. It’s essentially an entrepreneurial company.

Can you share an interesting story about a challenge that you faced and how you overcame it?

Until you accept the differences, the most significant challenges and misunderstandings are cultural. Our CEO likes to tell a story about how he’s only seen me get mad and yell, twice. Both times were in a car in China.

First, we had a large manufacturer that was trying to take us out for a nice dinner which turned into a three-hour ordeal. The restaurant was closed, so they had to find someone to open the kitchen. Once they did, there was only one person to cook one meal at a time for our entire group. When they got to our CEO, the cook came out to say they were out of what he wanted. At this point, it was 11 p.m. and we just wanted to sleep, but they drove us 35 minutes across the city to find him some western food, so we tried to stay patient.

We kept asking to go to the hotel, but our driver was not understanding. Eventually, they forcibly gave the CEO a sandwich and took us back to the hotel.

We were agitated and unhappy, but at that moment they were obligated to find food for the CEO because that’s what they’re supposed to do. It was a bizarre and confusing series of events that I chalked up to be cultural expectations.

On a separate occasion, we had a factory hire a specific driver in Shanghai because he had a reputation of being fast. I’ve never experienced anything like it. The guy drove like a maniac but saved us hours in drive time. It was cool up until the point when he tried to force an active ambulance off the road which resulted in me shouting at him. The car ride was really awkward after that.


Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?

We have one dedicated factory in China that handles 85% of our manufacturing. Both companies have grown together and are building a new state of the art campus across the street from their current facility. Five or six years ago, they were in a 5,000 sq ft building with a single sewing line, so this is exciting to go through with them. We also are helping them develop new capabilities, which makes both of us better.

What advice would you give to other business owners who do business in China to help their employees thrive?

Create a business culture that takes the time to learn about your business partners and how they do business. Doing things such as understanding the subtleties necessary for building a relationship, as well as spotting different negotiation tactics, will go a long way toward helping your employees and business partners feel successful.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped you get to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Both my dad and my grandpa, for many reasons. Their work ethics and giving natures allowed me the freedom to work hard and chase after things. Specific to working with Chinese companies, my grandpa’s beliefs and attitudes shaped my interest in and respect for other cultures. He always spoke with great respect for other people and their cultures.


We keep hearing about the “Trade War”. What are your thoughts about it? Given the unknowns, how do you plan to pivot?

Pivot is a bit of a strong word, at least for now. We’ve started working with small factories in other countries to test it out, though this was already on our roadmap. It’s a natural step for risk mitigation. 
 
 It wouldn’t be an easy process to switch, but what we’ve learned combined with the new relationships we’ve made, would help us. Living in Southern Minnesota, I’ve probably given more thought to the low price of soybeans lately than the cost of costumes.

What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Do Business in China.”

1. Creating strong personal relationships can negate many mistakes.

Our relationship with our primary factory is amazing. The two companies have basically grown up together. The members of the owner’s families frequently stay at each other’s houses while they’re in China or the US visiting. Both companies have experienced hockey stick growth curves over the past six or seven years, which has created a ton of headaches and complexities while working together. Our strong relationship has helped both sides get through difficult times.

We’ve seen the other side of it too. There is a small factory that we’ve worked with for the past five years or so. We’ve hoped for them to grow and it hasn’t worked. This lack of growth could be attributed to the fact that we don’t have anything near that close family-like relationship. The trust isn’t there yet.

2. Take time to imagine things from their point of view.

There are cultural and environmental differences. They do business differently in many ways, and there is a language barrier. The sooner you begin to make decisions (while keeping these differences in mind), the better off you’ll be. That doesn’t mean you need to let every frustration slide because it’s “a cultural difference.” If you refrain from being surprised and frustrated by these differences, you’ll be in a better place to succeed. It’s human nature to look at things from your point of view. If you can start by looking at things from someone else’s point of view, you’ll have an easier time influencing them and shaping the way you do business.

3. If you can do something to help your business partners improve or grow, do it. It’s probably not worth worrying about whose job it is.

Maybe this is just relevant because of how quickly both companies grew together, but it’s held true the entire time. There have been times where we’ve felt like we shouldn’t have taken extra steps to help them learn or fix an issue, but it ends up being mutually beneficial, so there’s no reason not to. Going the extra mile helps build trust and wouldn’t be nearly as accurate if we didn’t begin with a great relationship.

4. While communicating with someone, do not assume your expectations will make sense.
 
I don’t have a specific example, but it seems to happen all the time in day-to-day business. You say or hear something that doesn’t land right with the other side and a discussion derails because of the language barrier. Both sides misunderstand each other and it takes too long to recognize it. This often ends with money, time, and feelings are wasted.

The Chinese cultural norm of wanting people to ‘save face’ will allow a conversation to continue for a long time without either side fully understanding each other. Always be aware that the person you’re talking to might not understand things the way you assume, even if they say they do.

5. Make sure everyone interacting with Chinese partners understands how to communicate appropriately.

As our operation has grown, different people in our company have started to communicate directly with our factory. The same is true on the factory side, which has caused many communication issues. The new employees in the US will sometimes overcomplicate their wording and email structure. The new China employees are typically new to reading and writing English, so they don’t understand the many nuances of the language. I always say to use second grade English. Subject, predicate, 1–3 sentence paragraphs, and use as few simple words as possible. I’ve found that it helps to reuse the same words and formatting you’ve seen that employees in China use, as it will make more sense to them.




Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Get outside your comfort zone, that’s where the good stuff lies.”

It’s just true. Every time something good happens, it’s usually because I pushed myself in some way or another. Personally, professionally, whatever.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be/ You never know what your idea can trigger.

I’d love to see people accept differences — in the US, as well as internationally. We’ve fallen into this horrible trap of rejecting everyone with a differing opinion. Maybe it’s always been that way and we’re just more aware of it now or something like that, but there’s so much divisiveness. In the end, we’re not all that different and the things that make most people different, usually wind up to be what makes people interesting.

Now, I have no idea how to do that. It’s always natural to form opinions based on your life experience at the time. Even the person you think is extreme or crazy, thinks they’re doing the best they can with what they have and know. It starts with taking the time to imagine the perspective from that person’s point of view, no matter how strange it is to you. Once you do that, you can at least figure out how to start a conversation.

Originally published at medium.com

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