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”.