It's A Dry Heat!
If you have ever lived in or visited Arizona you’ve likely heard the saying, “It’s a dry heat” when discussing the weather. However, at Globetrotter Imports we’ve experienced the effects of this heat unlike most people. Please visit http://www.facebook.com/satconsulting and become a fan by clicking “Like”.
In 2004, when Lisa and I were first starting our importing business, we had met with several furniture manufacturers in Guangzhou and Ningbo, China. We had talked with them at trade shows, visited their factories, read their marketing materials, and socialized with them over meals. We believed that we knew all we needed to know to safely invest a significant amount of capital into our first container of unique household items.
After waiting several months for our goods to be manufactured, wrapped and packed into a container, shipped by train from Ningbo to Hong Kong, then by ship to Long Beach, and finally by truck to Tucson, we received our items. I still remember how excited we were when the semi truck pulled to the rear of our store for unloading. Several hours later, with all our items unloaded and staged in our display room, we began to unwrap.
We unwrapped wine cabinets, armoires, entertainment centers, Buddhas, entry gates, benches, and much more. Everything looked great until I unwrapped a large dining table. It had a crack right down the middle of its top surface. My heart skipped a beat before I uttered “What the hell?” and began unwrapping its chairs. Each chair had also split down the middle of the seat. Not only did we have damaged goods, we had no recourse. If we had ordered from an importer in the U.S., we could have returned the damaged items. However, when it came to our Chinese suppliers, we had no recourse (As it turned out, we were able to sell our damaged items “at cost” to people willing to repair).
Discovering the split table and chairs were just the beginning of things to come. Weeks after receiving our Chinese imports, we began to hear “popping” noises throughout the day. At first we ignored the noises and weren’t concerned as to the source. But as the popping became more frequent, I began to suspect that more items were splitting. I became 100% convinced when I received a call from a customer who had recently purchased several thousand dollars worth of items (and who was considering spending several thousand more). “Steve”, she said. “All of my furniture is splitting. I hear popping noises throughout the night!” Not only did my heart skip a beat again, it jumped through my chest and fell to the floor.
I explained that we were experiencing the same thing and it appeared that Tucson’s dry climate was just too extreme for wood products from China. Per our supplier’s product specifications, everything is kiln dried, but obviously they weren’t dried enough to withstand Arizona’s dry heat. I then told our customer that I would give her a full refund. But because she liked her purchases so much, she decided to keep everything. Valuing her loyalty, we felt we had to do something to rectify the situation. Hence, we surprised her with a gift of a new bookcase valued at $500.
We had learned some valuable lessons from this initial experience:
You get what you pay for. Chinese manufacturers are very good at making almost anything. However, if you want to ensure that the items bought are of high quality, you’ll need to impose higher quality controls at a greater expense.
If you don’t want to pay for higher quality controls, purchase wooden items that are allowed to crack. We eliminated our worries about future purchases by ordering rustic looking items. For example, if a crack developed in the side of a rustic looking cabinet, it added to its rustic appearance.
Be wary of purchasing imported wooden items (from China, India, Indonesia, etc. where climates are humid) from stores who operate humidifiers in their display areas. They do this to minimize cracking before the sale. If you’re lucky, they will tell you this and suggest that you do the same in your home. However, to be certain, purchase items that can crack or that have already adjusted to Arizona’s climate. To be really certain, ask the store owner to provide a warranty or refund guarantee.