The only “movement” I would want to inspire is to encourage travel, especially within the U.S. Europeans are introduced to this from an early age because travelling to another country and seeing another culture is often only a 1–2 hour train ride or short flight away. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy for many Americans and thus not as much of a priority for people in our country. Travelling can demonstrate to someone that the world is not as scary as it’s made to be, and that people from different backgrounds can be our friends and teachers. I think we would gain a lot from starting these lessons at an early age. The world is a much better place when people experience it for themselves. It can help combat a lot of the hate, racism, violence and other issues that plague us today. We are all made of the same stuff and I believe there is an opportunity for us to live harmoniously, and it starts with encouraging curiosity and understanding.
I had the pleasure to interview Jordan Wendelken, Co-Founder of Havana Trading Company.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
My business partner and Co-Founder of Havana Trading Company, Eddie Rey, and I both previously held very corporate careers working in the dental industry, eventually leaving our respective roles to begin our own dental consulting firm that was mildly successful, but not fulfilling for either of us. We realized we wanted to switch gears and, once our clients had completed their contracts, an old friend called me and let me know about a lucrative product being purchased in the entertainment industry. We spent two weeks making sales calls and immediately had success. As a result, we soon found ourselves on our way to China for the first time to find the manufacturers of this product and fulfill the orders we received. Fast forward three years and we are one of the top importers in the US for trampoline park grip socks. We credit our success to promising and delivering the highest quality socks at the lowest price possible, thanks to the relationships we’ve cultivated with manufacture partners in China. Our next step will be to build our own production factory, the plans for which are in the works.
We know that it is not always easy for a foreigner to do business in China. Can you share an interesting story about a challenge that you faced, and how you overcame it?
When you initiate any business dealings in China, barriers pertaining to language and cultural differences can definitely create obstacles. In the early days of HTC, we were working with two young factory salesman to help us find recommended manufacturing facilities. They connected us with one from which they knew a sales team member from college. HTC soon landed a massive client with a massive order. We began sample production for them while simultaneously fulfilling other ongoing orders. Suddenly, our other, ongoing orders went missing. Unfortunately, it turned out that the group we were working with was not from the actual factory, but renting space there. They had run out of the funds to finish our orders so the partner factory held it for ransom and then sold it to someone else. We lost $10,000 and then the “owner” skipped town and we never saw or heard from him again. We had to start from scratch and find all new factories and negotiate new contracts, etc. We flew there to do it in person and to see the factories for ourselves. An important lesson we learned from that experience is you must make sure you really know all parts of your business if you desire all parts are functioning cohesively towards the desired outcome.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Wanting to provide the best possible service for our clients at HTC is what motivated me to move to China and continue developing our business from here. In addition, I am extremely passionate about immersing myself in other cultures to achieve a depth of understanding from the inside out that almost none of our competitors strive for. An added bonus to that cultural awareness is the increased awareness of other business opportunities here.
In the 6+ months that I’ve lived here, I have come across many new and exciting opportunities to apply what I’ve learned about doing successful work in and with China, and apply it to other businesses. Right now my business partner, Eddie, and I are looking at education, and especially the exploding need for English teachers here. Someone with an education background can make upwards of $80k per year to run a school, or a $40–60k teaching salary for 30 hours per week of work. In addition to teaching opportunities, foreign workers can also take advantage of other job opportunities including modeling, acting, dancing and more.
Using our combined connections in China and shared desire to help other people travel and experience other cultures, we’ve built a jobs posting website for those who want to see the world while making a respectable wage. The site — www.worktravelthrive.com — will launch later this year, and will also serve as a lifestyle brand and social networking platform for travel enthusiasts across the globe.
What advice would you give to other business owners who do business in China, to help their employees to thrive?
Again, there is a big difference between working with China and working inChina. The most important thing that a company should provide for any employees living IN China (in order to thrive and be successful) are the following: A nice apartment in a good neighborhood, a fitness membership, a Chinese speaking translator or helper/agent who can assist with things like banks accounts, apps, questions, travel etc.
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 get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Our Chinese associate, Linda Wu. Without Linda we would not be where we are in such a short period of time. In San Diego I host travelers who need a free couch to sleep on (or air mattress in my case) via the app Couchsurfer. I have hosted around 80 travelers from all over the world and it has been a fantastic experience sharing my passion for travel and exploration with these new friends. I had never actually Couchsurfed myself, until Eddie and I went to China for work together and decided to give it a try. In Hangzhou our host was Linda. In addition to being a thoughtful and generous host, we learned that she is a professional sales member for a large automotive parts company, extremely intelligent and well-versed in the business of import/export. We got to know her and her talents in negotiation and shipping logistics during the following months as we worked with her on some orders. She is now on our staff and an essential part of our operations here who will be with us for years and years (or at least we hope!). It just goes to show how being open to meeting and befriending people from around the world can enrich not just your personal life, but your professional life as well.
What do you think are the new untapped markets in China that may become the next “big thing”?
As I mentioned, living here has shown me a wealth of opportunities, including the exploding need to fill educational positions here. A few things that I actually expect to slow down will be the import/export of heavy-metals based products due to trade tariffs and tax hikes on new legislation in US in addition to the environmental protections going on in China that will raise production costs.
We keep hearing about the “Trade War”. What are your thoughts about it? Given the unknowns, how do you plan to pivot?
We are still a small company, which has its benefits both when it comes to customer service and when dealing with the fallout from “trade wars” and other international policy issues. We are more nimble at this level better suited to go with the flow. If something were to happen, the bigger players in this industry are able to quickly “pivot” by moving production facilities to other countries. When they do, smaller companies like ours can purchase from those newer factories. At the smaller level, there really isn’t a trade war to be concerned about. As prices increase due to tariffs and demand our customers unfortunately bare the cost as well until other channels open
What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Do Business In China.” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Getting production started in China — The biggest challenge to getting your business started in China will be navigating all of the complicated logistics that come with contracting with overseas partners, finding trustworthy employees, setting up payment systems across two separate economies, import/export and shipping, etc. A lot of these headaches can be avoided by partnering with a trading company, like HTC, that has experience doing all of the above to deal with these logistics.
- What to look for in your overseas business partnerships — When it comes to products, always always get a sample before production. Even if timelines are tight, you would rather have a late product that is complete and up-to-par than an early disaster that costs you a lot of money. The cost of the sample will always be deducted off the final production bill. This will also prove a factory’s competency. You need that tangible proof when your partners are on the other side of the world.
- How to guarantee a quality product — Not every factory has the same payment terms, but most will honor 30/70, which means 30% to start production and 70% when it ships from the factory (not out of the country). Never pay the initial 30% before you receive the sample. If you pay 30% without witnessing production quality for yourself and end up wanting to switch factories, you will find it hard to get your money back. Keep in mind that the Chinese economy tends to favor mass quantity and convenience over quality, so you need all the leverage you can get to ensure you are getting the quality you demand.
- Navigating import/export logistics — Get familiar with “EXW” and “FOB” shipment terms, this will affect your end cost by ALOT.
- EXW is “Ex (Latin for out of or from) Works” where the factory’s/seller’s responsibility for a product ends after production is complete (making the buyer responsible for loading onto trucks at the sellers facility, clearing export, transporting to airport or port of origin and loading onto the vessel or aircraft). This makes the buyer responsible for all liability after a product is produced.
- FOB is “Free On Board” and indicates the seller/factory is responsible for delivery of the product to its transport method (i.e. boat or plane) but not thereafter. The buyer then takes on all shipping costs.
These terms should be agreed upon before production including the PI (invoice) with an official factory stamp. None of these include what happens after the cargo is loaded onto a ship or aircraft but certainly effects your final destinations custom clearance. It is a lot of paperwork either way which shouldn’t be done unless you have a trusted forwarder you are working with in China. You also must work with a customs broker, someone who is licensed to clear the cargo at the port of destination. They can also arrange the shipment and/or holding of cargo after it is cleared. Finally, make sure you always insure cargo for when it is on the chosen transport vessel. If a storm blows the container off the boat (yes, this actually happens) and your cargo is not insured, tough luck.
5. Best practices for avoiding financial setbacks — You can never get comfortable with a factory or seller/sales agent. Remember it is their job to lower their costs which means they may change materials, packaging, production methods, etc. and this can affect your product integrity. Don’t just believe it when they tell you they found a better material or production process. Make sure you see the final product for yourself before giving a stamp of approval. Ask for product pictures, samples, and signed/stamped agreements and certificates along the way. Especially at the point where the seller/factory hands over responsibility based on EXW or FOB. Sometimes product is damaged at delivery and shipped on without anyone noticing and the seller/factory will claim it was on the buyers shoulders.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
After I traveled to China a few times, Thailand and then India I experienced a major shift in perspective and rebirth of mind body and spirit. I realized that seeing the world through travel and exploration is what I needed to live my life to its fullest potential. I have the quote “every man dies, but not every man lives” tattooed in Chinese, Tamil (southern India), and English to represent the countries where I have done the bulk of my business. I chose that quote because it represents my main motivation, to live while I am alive. I believe the world — its people, places and cultures — is our best teacher, and if I want to be grow and be a better person in this world I must attend its classes.
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. 🙂
The only “movement” I would want to inspire is to encourage travel, especially within the U.S. Europeans are introduced to this from an early age because travelling to another country and seeing another culture is often only a 1–2 hour train ride or short flight away. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy for many Americans and thus not as much of a priority for people in our country. Travelling can demonstrate to someone that the world is not as scary as it’s made to be, and that people from different backgrounds can be our friends and teachers. I think we would gain a lot from starting these lessons at an early age. As I mentioned, our dedication to travel is one of the reasons Eddie and I started www.worktravelthrive.com. We hope the site will help people see the world that awaits them, and encourage inner exploration as much as outer. The world is a much better place when people experience it for themselves. It can help combat a lot of the hate, racism, violence and other issues that plague us today. We are all made of the same stuff and I believe there is an opportunity for us to live harmoniously, and it starts with encouraging curiosity and understanding.
Originally published at medium.com