People often ask us how we find new suppliers. When we began in 1993, we thought we were really preparing for this new career. We took a class in importing from a local junior college. Now we could write the book "What they don't tell you about importing". We contacted the Italian representatives in the US who were extremely helpful. They gladly faxed and mailed a lengthy list of glass makers in Italy in fact all over Italy.
The list was valuable as the input was provided by the various artisan, craft consortiums around Italy. It made for some interesting trips to small towns and villages all around northern Italy. It was a beginning, but certainly not all encompassing. Maybe it was the best way, as at least some of those had sold to companies outside Italy and maybe knew a little bit about packaging and shipping.
But as great as our first list was, unfortunately we chose to enter into this business by making our first buying trip in August. Do you know how many Italians there are in Italy in August, the month of the national holiday known as Ferragosto? Well at least 2! We found both of them, along with a good list of hotels and restaurants with air conditioning. The two we found in Murano and Venice are still good friends until today.
But then came the shipping? We had learned from our class that there was an "informal" entry into the US which the US Post provided (and still does - when you get a package in International Mail) and that up to a certain limit, we could have shipped to us. And often we shipped the parcels ourselves before leaving Italy.
Oh, did we mention that we did not speak Italian at that point,? We were fortunate that we had Vince, the Italian son-in-law. His family living in Italy provided our banking and writing of orders, making the phone calls, translations and being generally invaluable. And our mistakes provided plenty of laughs for them, like the time we were trying to buy canes (canna in Italian) and they thought we were buying cane (dogs in Italian). They were a bit concerned as we described how we would chop us the canes while their eyes grew large in horror as they envisioned us chopping up little Italian puppies. Happily hundreds of dogs did not show up in our local post office before we got these two words straightened out!
But as time went on, we learned to speak Italian, understand a good deal of dialect and began spending as much time as possible in Venice and Murano. We graduated from hotels to apartments and from restaurants to having family dinners with our friends and suppliers. The new sources for suppliers came from a very unlikely source, the local bar. Now remember that a "bar" in Italy is also where you get your morning cappuccino (or espresso if you are Italian). In Venice it is where you drink an "omber" with your friends and neighbors in the afternoon. And what do we talk about? Of course the weather, the high or not so high water, and whatever in the world brings you to Venice so often.
At this point, we explain about how we fell in love with the glass of Murano, and invarably, they know someone who makes beads, blows glass or does lampwork. And from there, we may be introduced to a surprising new creator of the things we all love.
Our latest in lampwork is just one of these finds, introduced by a friend in Venice. The family had never sold any products outside of Venice and certainly not outside of Italy. We are more fortunate today as so many people have emails, it makes our work much easier as we can communicate quickly.
One of our oldest suppliers remembers when his grandfather began selling in Africa. They would receive a request for beads and write a quote, mailing it. Three or four months later, they would get an order. Then they would prepare a fattura, which would take another three or four months for payment and if they were lucky, the beads would be shipped within the same year.
As for our latest supplier, on the day our freight forwarder delivered the pendants, they sent me an email, recommending that we sell them all quickly. They are excited to have their products in the US market. We hope you'll enjoy these.