Since its inception in 2003, “finding unique products at prices that our customers can afford” has been the driving force behind Nontando’s annual buying trips to the continent of Africa.
Gary Stern, owner of Nontando, explains, “Our online and retail customers see the final product, yet our buying trips are about so much more than product, trade and transaction”. Stern explains, “For many of the folks I deal with in Africa, especially the artists, communication and the means thereof, is something very new”. “For many years”, Stern continues, “Many of the folks we deal with in Africa, had very limited ability to communicate in the past due to the lack of technology and other resources.” Stern continues, “This is starting to change, which really helps with the planning and organization of our buying trips”. “Technology is more accessible, more affordable and folks in Africa are becoming more comfortable and knowledgeable and see the benefits in their day to day lives”. On his most recent buying trip in August 2012, gave one his suppliers from Cameroon a digital camera. “He now has a wonderful opportunity to showcase his products internationally and he is seeing the potential for him to reach a global audience”, Stern explains.
“Every year I go back I try and instill the importance of establishing partnerships and building contacts. The artists that have created business relationships internationally have quickly recognized the benefits and potential”, Stern says.
“For me, my buying trips are about so much more than product. Building relationships was and still is paramount”, Stern explains. Stern and Nontando do not measure their buying trip successes on products alone. “Establishing and building relationships for the long term is so important”, explains Stern.
Buying trips can be very challenging but the pros outweigh the cons every time. Getting that cultural and geographic taste and experience, and gaining the in-depth firsthand product knowledge of the items you are bringing back – nothing can replace this!
“Time is limited and logistics can be a challenge,” says Stern.
Nontando normally goes for a period of 3 weeks to African annually and travel to different regions each year. Because of this, preplanning and communication is critical. Stern continues, “I have yet to go on a buying trip were I have not had to make some rapid decisions on a couple of surprises,” he explains.
Some of these surprises can be of a positive nature. Often, I will cross paths with an artist and/or a product that I had not planned for. Product uniqueness has and is a vital component of Nontando’s buying and product strategy and for Stern, it is so personally rewarding when he fortuitously comes upon these opportunities. “Regardless that you may travel with a plan the ability to make decisions on the fly is critical,” explains Stern.
Depending on the type of product being sourced, and the region it’s being sourced from, the ability to assess the quality is of paramount importance. Stern says, “Selecting and handpicking each of our products is a vital component to our buying trips. Over the past 10 years I have heard many stories from customers that had acquired products from other businesses and also on their own personal travel only to be disappointed with the quality of the item”, Stern says.
“Doing this for over 10 years now has giving us this experience and knowledge to be able to sort the good product from the bad product, avoiding the potential to get ripped off”, Stern says. “We pride ourselves on quality and authenticity and our buying trips is the main cause in achieving this”, Stern says.