Saturday, May 5, 2007

Suitcase Exporting

The craft market in Otavalo is huge fun - dozens of vendors offering amazingly beautiful tapestries for wall and floor; huge stacks of sweaters, all 'alpaca'; soft cotton shawls of all colours; tables full of silver handcrafted jewellry; colourful tagua necklaces and bracelets, ponchos of all types and colors; unique art and carvings, and on.... and on....

Bargaining is mandatory. If you don't offer at least 30% less than the quoted price, you're going to be sorry. Besides, it's fun! I've found that everyone is willing to bargain, and you will never feel pressured to buy. But you will buy!

Now, what does that all have to do with 'Suitcase Exporting'? Well, it's amazing how far your dollar goes. A dozen tagua bracelets will cost you anywhere from $15 to $25, depending on your aforementioned bargaining skills. Soft, lovely cotton shawls can be had for $1 to $2 each. You can fit a lot of those into a suitcase. People at home love them, and are willing to pay you up to ten times your investment.

One friend I've met in Ecuador says that people who see her wearing her ponchos want to buy them right off her back! They will cost you less than $8 in Otavalo.

And when you visit Otavalo, make sure you go into the streets off the Plaza de los Ponchos. That's where the wholesalers are located. There you'll find outlets with stacks of hand knitted sweaters, heaps of ponchos, shelves full of embroidered cotton clothing, beautiful leather goods and silver or tagua jewellry.

In the shops of Cotacachi, you can find quality leather purses for as little as $15. If you've been shopping back home, you know that a quality leather purse can run you anywhere from $60 to $300. Do you see an opportunity here? I won't even mention the leather coats, the quality saddles, the horsehair woven belts....

Look for opportunities. Do some market research before you leave home. Find your passion, something you know. It may be saddles, it may be sweaters, or wood carving. Then visit the markets of Ecuador, and fill your suitcases with the quality products there. Bring them back home, and I'll bet you have no problem making some money... for your next trip.