Dec 9, 2016

Scott's Journey to China

Hi everyone, Ping here. Today I’m stepping away from my seat as Resident Blogger here at The Icebox, so our Chief Swag Officer, Scott, can give you an inside glimpse into what it takes to get the world’s best swag into your hands. Scott recently took a trip to China with our International Sourcing Director, Flora Sym, to check on a few VIP client orders and meet some of our overseas factory partners. Why is Flora such a big key to our success? Flora is fluent in English, Chinese, French, Lao, and Thai and she uses her linguistic mastery to maintain strong relationships with suppliers all over the world. Because of Flora’s intellect, we can negotiate and evaluate quality control standards, obtain faster quotes, keep costs down to save money for our clients, eliminate communication barriers, and simplify the international sourcing process so that orders are completed on time and up to snuff.

I’m a globetrotter myself, so I thoroughly enjoyed getting a peek into Scott’s travel journal. Here’s what he had to say about his recent excursion abroad:

Meet Scott, our Chief Swag Officer

Scott’s Journal

"The last time I was in China was 20 years ago when my brother and I flew overseas in search of manufacturing for our sister company, Alternative Apparel. In mid-August, I took a one-week trip with Flora to Shenzen, Guangzhou, Qindao, Ningbo, and Shanghai; we covered a lot of ground in just 6 short days!

A few in-the-know colleagues forewarned Flora that she had her hands full traveling with me, and that she would have to play surrogate mother. Flora not only babysat me, she also set up an extremely efficient trip that allowed us to see 12 factories and showrooms in just 6 days. Her ability to communicate perfectly with everyone we encountered was invaluable. Long story short, I would have been lost without Flora (literally and figuratively)!

Flora speaking to a factory representative Our swag being made!

It was a journey of planes, trains, and automobiles. We spent more than 50 hours flying (8 planes in 8 days), took a train ride, and drove many miles between factories. I had ample time to prepare for all my upcoming fantasy football drafts during the flights, and the US to China flight was incredibly comfy, as my seat turned into a full bed! Once in China, the car rides were surreal. It is fascinating to be in an environment unable to understand a word anyone was saying. Flora interpreted with drivers (and everyone else) as needed, but I found myself playing internal mind games to kill the time; I would try and imagine what on earth the conversations were about. It was interesting to observe the tone and body language with no knowledge of the dialogue.

It got to a point where I spent much of the car rides trying to shoot pictures of the plethora of bikers, mopeds, and motorcycle riders. This becomes like a video game of sorts as you must time the camera perfectly, while the car is in motion, as you pass the bikers. Most times I would snap a shot just to find my timing was off and there was no biker in the frame.

Bike riders during my car rides

Speaking of video games… the scariest moment of the trip was when a young factory owner drove us around for the day. He was noticeably nervous, and I am sure he had never driven a car before. After many close calls, we were trapped on a highway-like road going the wrong direction. We sat in a dead stop while on-coming traffic approached us, cars swerving to miss us at the last moment like a game of chicken. Talk about a long couple of minutes. The incident is funny now, but at the time it was terrifying. Flora and I had the best laugh of the trip that evening reminiscing about our near-death experience.

We covered so much terrain during the visit. One day we saw the second tallest building in the world in Shanghai, and the next we would tour a boutique factory in a small province in Qingdao. We saw factories that employed thousands of workers and were manufacturing for all the huge brands we know and love here in the States. It was so interesting to understand the various levels of quality, factory minimums, pricing, and QC (quality control) processes. It was a real learning experience.

Beautiful skyscrapers

One thing that was consistent, regardless of who we were meeting, was their hospitality toward us. Each of our vendors picked us up, spent a ton of time with us (even on the weekend), and treated us like royalty. Whenever they found the opportunity, they tried to carry our bags. Factories will do little to no business with you until they’ve rolled out the red carpet. I think they appreciate when a US customer takes the time to come visit them.

Smiley face
I also learned that they deem it important to take their customers to meals. Everyone wanted to take us to eat and we often ate in a private room. Being self-aware, I was very fearful that I would hate the food. I packed a dozen assorted power bars just in case my pickiness kicked in. Between the amounts of food our vendors ordered us at each meal and the insane breakfast buffets at the various hotels, I can proudly say that I am tipping the scales at an all-time high. I literally gained 10 pounds — this from a guy who has been +/- 5 pounds since high school. For some meals, we would pick the fish, octopus, etc. that we wanted and they would cook and deliver it…fish tank to table! They would put all the food in the middle of the table on a Lazy Susan. Each time a new dish arrived, they would spin the table to put that dish right in front of Flora and I; our hosts would not eat until we had tried all the dishes. Generally, it was delicious, but don’t get me wrong-- there were some scary foods (most of which I had to try so as not to offend our hosts).

We had some very long days. Between the jet lag and the Advil PMs that my pharmacist Flora would provide, I did not always know what day it was. I did, however, always know what time it was in both China and Atlanta… Just switch the AM and PM! My wife would regularly face time me around 6-7 PM (Atlanta time) as her day was beginning to wind down and I was just hitting the snooze button. I think she began to question if I was just sleeping all day.

At nights, I would watch TV. Although a few hotels had some English channels like CNN, there were some hotels that only offered Chinese stations. I watched some Chinese basketball games and women’s doubles badminton. I began playing the game I referenced in the car where I would try and guess what the TV actors were saying. Most channels seemed to be playing cheesy 80’s-looking soap operas.

All in all, it was a great week. The one thing I know for sure is....there truly is no place like home. This is Scott signing off…Stay Calm, Stay COOL, and Go to China at some point in your life!"

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