Nontando celebrates 10 years of direct importing of African Décor, Art and Gifts

Annual buying trips to Africa for the past 10 years have enabled Nontando to establish many relationships across the continent of Africa. However, even with the numerous challenges of direct importing from overseas, the benefits are clear to be seen and have been the cornerstone behind the business successes over the past decade.

“I would not do it any other way”, says Gary Stern, owner and founder of Nontando. Stern emphasizes that his strategy from inception was to continuously improve the supply chain management process coupled an effort to cut costs in the process.  Stern says, “Direct importing has its challenges but when you can seek out higher quality products at better prices and deal directly with the artists then the ripple effect is a big positive”. “A global recession together with a prolonged challenging economic environment has of course had an impact on discretionary spending, hence bringing quality products at affordable prices has been of paramount importance at Nontando. Stern continues, “Direct importing gives us a comparative advantage with lower priced goods which allows us to eliminate the need for middlemen thus bringing our products to the consumer at better prices”.

Stern explains how every region has its strengths and weaknesses, good quality and poor quality and being able to identify and maintain viable sources is critical with regard to importing. “We pride ourselves that our products are 100% authentic and hand selected”, says Stern. Nontando normally takes 3 weeks each year and goes shopping in Africa travelling across many regions and meeting with their sources. “We try and do as much pre planning as possible before our buying trips but almost 50% of our selected and imported products are acquired ad-hoc during our trips”, Stern continues,” Through our online presence we are working with a number of designers and decorators across the USA and many of them are seeking that unusual, unique product. Our trips enable us to seek these products out”.

For certain product lines, uniqueness is critical and it can be somewhat trial and error process.   “Experience through our buying trips has taught us so much about the varied regions and peoples of Africa and just like anywhere in the world, artists from different demographics tend to specialize in particular mediums and categories”, Stern says. He explains in Africa many of the traditional skills have been carried on for generations in some cultures.

Nontando is a huge believer and supporter of working with the local artist and suppliers, thus encouraging empowerment and entrepreneurship. “Government intervention has definitely improved over the years but there is still a lot of work to be done here”, Stern says. “Trade agreements in recent years have been encouraging promoting free trade and less government intervention”. Nontando wants to see the small, local artist given the same opportunities to reach the global markets”. Stern says, “This would create a win-win scenario as well as serve as a boost for local economies”.


Nontando completes another African buying Trip, an exercise in more than just African Art

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.

Nontando offering travel packages to South Africa and other African countries

Nontando, operating since 2003, specializing in African conversational art, Home Decor and Gifts through its retail and online operations, has successfully launched its travel service offerings to its customers. In late 2011, Nontando  began  offering an extensive and exciting range of tour packages to six Southern African countries.

This service offering was initially based on many of Nontando  retail and online customers seeking advice and recommendations regarding African travel. Gary Stern, owner of Nontando, based in Sarasota, Florida says, “In many ways their input, over time, helped us build the platform in identifying the criteria that we were seeking in partnering with a feasible tour operator”.

“We know Africa and we know African Art”, Stern admits,”It was of paramount importance that we teamed up with


travel organization that can offer our customers the experience and expertise needed”.

The owners of Nontando were born and raised in Africa and still travel back to the continent for their annual buying trips. “We used the opportunity during our annual African visits over the past few years to familiarize ourselves with some of the leading players in the African Travel Industry” says Stern.  After a detailed assessment and evaluation, Nontando selected and teamed up with a leading South African tour operator and now offers its customers an extensive collection of diverse and customized packages. “You can visit to see the travel packages we offer, which we continue to tweak to ensure that it meets the diverse travel ideals and cravings of our customers”, Stern says.

Stern continues, “We spent the two years evaluating and studying numerous travel organizations and their

respective products and service offerings. We used the input from our customers as the building blocks in establishing the type of company we were seeking” Stern says. Their objective was to provide the following to their customers:

 1. A wide array of affordable luxury package choices to Africa providing for flexibility  and customization.

 2. An extensive portfolio of tour programs with a variety of hotels, game lodges and safari companies throughout               Southern Africa at their disposal, with an extensive support network throughout the region

3. The comfort of dealing with a “one stop shop” that includes your complete
package, meals, air travel, hotels, game lodges and safaris.

4. Itineraries that are exciting, diverse and fulfilling.

5. Dealing with a travel company that has the experience, extensive knowledge and
know-how in planning the perfect African vacation.

6. A travel package that can be customized to perfectly fit your ideals, timeline and
destination requirements.

7. A company with a  history of positive recommendations, credentials and
references and an outstanding reputation in the marketplace..

Stern says, “We wanted a partner that was recognizable and people were familiar with”. They have operated tours for 11 years, this organization is a division of South Africa and Africa’s most awarded and recognized airline, hence all packages include your airfare throughout your tour, and they have ground handlers working and operating throughout the continent”.

“In many ways we see our role here as a consultant or advisor”, Stern says,”We have travelled the continent extensively and couple this knowledge with an established tour operator that has a reputation for quality and reliability .

Stern continues, “For many folks this is a life long trip and you want to feel comfortable that you are dealing with a reputed and experience enterprise”.

Nontando has to rolled out approximately 30 tours packages since its launch to 6 Southern African countries, including

South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana. They will quite possibly to include Kenya and Tanzania tour packages in the future.Stern explains,” In addition to the regular packages offered, due to our partners very visible brand, strong relationship with its suppliers and the fact that are a division of South Africa and Africa’s premier airline, they are often able to offer special or tailor-made packages at exceptional prices”. “Timing is critical here and that is where we plan to really be of benefit to our customers” Stern says. “We will want folks to register at and in that way we can submit the details of the specials without delay”.

Specials, where rates are really discounted and specials offers are released regularly.
The special package pricing  is valid for specific travel periods with the same itinerary available at higher prices during other travel periods. Stern shows us 2 examples of current specials that seems unbeatable and somewhat hard to believe:

$1810 – 6 days in Cape Town, including all airfare to and from the USA.
$2699 – 9 days, include Cape Town as well as African safari, including all airfare to and from the USA.

” The accommodations are top class. In this example, the 6 dayer in Cape Town you are staying at one of best hotels in Cape Town overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at the hub of the activity”, Stern says. “But here is the best news regarding these specials and all  packages for that matter” Stern say .” Prices include ALL airfares, including from the US to Africa”.  “Considering I fly back to Africa every year and know the pricing history pretty well, it seemed these prices were impossible to believe at first, but it is true”, says the owner of Nontando. Nontando plans to establish the channels of communication to ensure all customers are up to speed in real-time of all specials. “The one stop shop factor is in play here as well”, Stern says,”You do not have to make separate airline reservations, they manage the genuine whole package for you”.

Nontando’s new partner was recently appointed as one of three tour operators in the U.S. to develop and sell travel packages for soccer fans visiting South Africa for the FIFA 2010 World Cup.

“It is still a work in progress but will give you good insight into the packages, accommodations and itineraries that we offer”, Stern