We have made our first foray into the Chinese market this past week, thanks to the persistence of a chap called Lee, who has bombarded us with emails. And when our response was a bit slow (admittedly someone had spilt coffee on the office laptop), he followed it up on the phone.
It all began out of the blue with an offer to supply us with wax coats. This was in early spring and I suppose, just coming out of winter, it was the last thing we needed.
But the barrage of emails began. After numerous requests, I finally succumbed to the pressure and agreed to take a look at the collection.
Back came a reply with a brochure attached, which consisted of half a dozen coats and gilets, but no prices. Lee kept asking for our comments and an order, and again, to stall him, we asked for samples of two styles and their prices. Within days two Fedex boxes arrived with a coat in each, and in fairness they looked as good as they did in the brochure.
In what seemed like a few minutes from the time the parcels arrived, sure enough, there was his name in my email inbox wanting to know if we liked his product and asking if we were ready to order.
I rattled off a message that we were indeed impressed with the coats, but found it hard to judge because we still had not been told the price. It was a real game of cat and mouse, and I'm convinced he knew exactly what he was doing.
It all went quiet for a few days, and then the questions started all over again. Were we ready to order and if so, how many? I replied to each one with a request for prices, and then - at last - the information arrived. And yes, it was worth waiting for.
The next step was to make a few enquiries about import duty, which we found was included in the price, the only 'extra' for us being the usual VAT, because there was not even a charge for carriage.
And so, after nearly three gruelling months, the order was finally written and despatched. Back came an order confirmation with an invoice attached, the money has been wired, and at the time of going to press we hopefully (and with a few prayers) await delivery of the coats.
If it all works out, I see them being featured on our website, where we hope to offer them at a keen price that will still leave us with a good margin.
It has been a steep learning curve, but the prices are well worth the while if the product sells. And one thing's for sure - this buying process will make driving to Moda in Birmingham through holiday traffic on a hot August day, down a choked M6, seem like a doddle.
- Martin Jones is the manager of menswear store Vaughan-Davies in Mold, north Wales.