Skistart.com about importing from China

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The webshop that started out in the garage of one of the founders, has over ten employees today. Skistart.com from Älvdalen, the Nordic region’s largest online ski shop, now exports to the whole of the Nordic region. Early on it began to import from China and Taiwan.

On a warm September day, Verksamt.se’s reporter Anders Nyberg meets with one of the founders, Henrik Lindh, at the company’s huge warehouse. There are skis, poles, clothes, climbing equipment and dietary supplements everywhere.

You don’t really think that it looks like this, when shopping online, right?
Probably not. But this is our reality. It is important that we have a lot of stock, in order to be able to make fast deliveries. Also, we usually try to avoid too many returns, otherwise you will soon have your warehouses spread throughout the Nordic region. We want to make a proper deliver, the first time out.

You import from China and Taiwan. What should you consider when you start with import?
Yes, that’s right. We have been working for a couple of years with imports from Asia now and what we have learned, for it is a process of learning all the time, is to purchase one product for the first time. Don’t immediately order 1,000 items of anything from anyone; but rather make a test order. That way, it is much easier to make sure you get what you really want.

It sounds expensive to ship a product here?
Yes, it’s a little more expensive with the shipping. However, it is also very expensive to order 1,000 units of wrong product. Another advantage of shipping the product here is also to see how the supplier manages delivery time. If one places a small order, it usually takes two and a half weeks for it to arrive. If it takes a significantly longer amount of time, that’s not good. It also gives you a small insight into how close to the factory you actually are. The shorter the delivery time, the closer the factory is. If the delivery time is long, there is a risk that there are many intermediaries.

What should you think about regarding customs duties?
We usually make a rough estimate review when we order. If the dollar is at SEK 8.50, then we calculate that the dollar is at SEK 10. In that way, we’ve covered most of the customs duties and shipping costs. Certainly it may vary from this, but if you calculate in this way, you should be ok.

Speaking of ports, you don’t actually have a port in Älvdalen?
No, deliveries come to the port in Gothenburg. We don’t want to risk unnecessary fees, so we make sure to get the goods quickly to Älvdalen from the Port of Gothenburg. Otherwise, we risk expensive port charges. Most often, shipping to Älvdalen from Gothenburg can be more expensive than shipping from China to Gothenburg.

But how do you actually find a supplier in China?
The first time we would start importing from China, we received tips from another supplier in Sweden. Then the word about us seems to have spread in China, because we receive contact requests from new suppliers almost daily.

How do you ensure that it is a good supplier?
It’s hard. The first time we got a tip, then we followed that recommendation and trusted it. But after we have having worked with new suppliers, we have occasionally run into problems, unfortunately. We ordered a ski wax and received a sample product. Later, when we were going to receive the actual delivery, we paid an advance payment. It isn’t uncommon for such a prepayment, usually a minimum of 30 percent. But when the supplier was going to ship the order, they wanted us to place a bigger order. But we only wanted to have that first little order, so we burned that order and lost the money. So, it may be good to know in advance that you can be burned.

How does you protect yourselves from such things?
It’s almost impossible. Get references, if possible. But it’s not always possible. However, it’s about five percent of our suppliers and orders, so very few mess up. My tip: order a small quantity of sample products first.

So the recipe is to order sample products?
Yes, absolutely. But try to be long-term too. The suppliers like that, and then they are more willing to send sample products. Also, try to be as specific to the supplier as you possibly can; leave nothing open for their own interpretation.

What do you mean?
Let’s say, for instance, you are going to produce a wax brush. It has green bristles. In such case, don’t just indicate “green,” but rather specify exact colour codes, the length of the bristles, what kind of material it should be made of, and so on. Otherwise it will be very easy for problems or misunderstandings to arise. Once, we wanted to produce a pair of ski rods from a supplier in China. We were, or so we thought, very careful about the size of the rods, colours, length and that it would be all glued together. But when we received the rods, we realised that we had not been sufficiently clear that the parts that would be glued together must hold together when one went skiing.  They came apart right away. So, once again, be specific and clearer than you might think necessary.

Let’s say hypothetically that everything has gone well with the order from the supplier and the goods have arrived at the port in Gothenburg – what happens next?
Then the customs agent will phone and ask if we have ordered goods, and maybe we may need to provide some additional documents or information if something is missing. After that we can go there to pick up the goods and have them shipped to Älvdalen.

It sounds pretty simple, I think?
Yes, just proceed. It’s really not all that difficult. That’s what we did at first, we simply put one foot after the next and resolved any obstacles that appeared along the way. Things always work out in the end.

Thank you Henrik for coming and chatting with me!
It was my pleasure!

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