The Life of a Buyer for South Platte Trading Co.
Whenever I tell people that I’m a Buyer for South Platte Trading Company, I love watching their eyes light up with intrigue. Whether it’s my friends, family, or customers at our store, everyone I meet seems to be curious about what my job actually entails.
Anyone who’s been to our store knows that many of our products come from exotic countries and showcase gorgeous timeworn textures as well as exquisite hand-carved detailing. It’s only natural for people to be curious about how these items come into our possession.
So, if you’ve ever wanted to know more about how we source products, then read on as I explain the in’s and out’s of my job as a professional Buyer.
Fabulous finds from faraway places
First and foremost, we should talk about where my job takes me.
There are many nations to explore in search of new and exciting finds, but China and Vietnam are two that truly stand out when it comes to all things furniture.These beautiful countries produce a wealth of new and vintage furnishings, and my job takes me to each quite often. Along with China and Vietnam, I also frequently travel to India because it is one of the biggest international hotspots when it comes to finding salvaged goods and distinctive antiques. All three of these countries are just about on the opposite side of the world from my home in Denver, CO, so needless to say, the trips I take can be quite an adventure.
Like many Buyers, I usually take about four trips a year, and I try to spread them out to about one trip per season. My typical year consists of two trips to either Vietnam or China, and two other trips to India. The length of each trip itself is anywhere from 1-2 weeks, and I am often moving between multiple cities or towns in each location.
Not a lonely profession
Let’s get into what it is that I actually do once my feet are on foreign soil. When most people think about the job of a Buyer, especially one who specializes in antique and reclaimed products, they often picture someone strolling through marketplaces and stumbling upon hidden shops full of rare vintage pieces. While not entirely inaccurate, the job is definitely not so straightforward.
One of the first things that might surprise people is that we Buyers are not solely responsible for all aspects of bringing in products from other countries – we are often part of a team.
Once you understand more about the process of purchasing products from international vendors, you can begin to see why a team is necessary. South Platte is fairly large when compared to similar stores, so we need a substantial number of sources from all over the world to supply our customers with diverse products. It is important to meet these sources in person, discuss our interests, negotiate prices, and hammer out the details related to shipping and delivery. Constant communication is valuable with each and every source, and we need to be able to follow up with them in-person if any problems or inconsistencies arise.
It would be hard for any one Buyer to accomplish all of these tasks for a large number of sources. Like any business, we want to be as efficient as possible, so we’ve delegated these responsibilities to multiple employees who are able to focus on just one or two steps of the process. Along with Buyers, we employ Sourcing Agents, Country Managers, and Quality Control Personnel, all of whom work together as a team to procure new products from foreign countries.
Sourcing Agents are the people who go out into the world and discover new sources of furnishings that would do well in our store. Our Sourcing Agents also live in the USA, and they make frequent trips back and forth overseas. Quality Control Personnel often live in the foreign countries in question, and they are in charge of maintaining ties with our sources when the rest of us can’t be there. Like their title implies, Quality Control Personnel are the ones who handle any issues that might arise if the goods we ordered from a source aren’t meeting our expectations. Finally, Country Managers oversee all of the company’s goings on in a particular country, including supervising the Buyers, Sourcing agents, and QC Personnel.
A talent for spotting style and quality
So, where do Buyers fit in? To put it simply, Buyers are there to make the final decision about what products we will or will not purchase. Sourcing Agents find multiple sources which offer products that would work for our business, but it is the Buyer who actually buys the items from each source. We are valued for our “eye” for style and quality, and our employers trust our instincts when it comes to purchasing the right items for our business. Although it is often enjoyable and empowering, it’s also a huge amount of pressure to be largely responsible for the wellbeing of the company and all of its employees.
Now that you know about the other members of the team, you can understand why I never fly solo. I usually travel with a group consisting of Sourcing Agents, Country Managers, and even other Buyers on each of my international trips.
You can also start to see why I’m rarely strolling through marketplaces or stumbling upon hidden antique shops after we land. Prior to traveling, the Sourcing Agent has already supplied me with a list of new contacts, and we have already collaborated to schedule times to meet with each source to see the products in person. Some of the sources may be in the same city, but many are spread out throughout the country, so there are plenty of “domestic” travel days between these in-person meetings. As a result, my itinerary is packed with meetings, tours, and other travel-related tasks like checking into hotels, arranging transportation, and, of course, finding restaurants that are agreeable to everyone in the group.
Even though much of my sightseeing is done through the windows of cars, trains, and planes; I do feel incredibly lucky that I’m able to see and experience these gorgeous countries in any capacity. Not only is the natural beauty of these nations something that is almost beyond words, the experience of living within their ancient and complex cultures is deeply powerful and profoundly humbling. It’s easy to get swept away, no matter how busy or stressful the journey can be.
Sources you have to see to believe
OK, time to get into the good stuff: the experience of purchasing products from one of my sources. Visiting each of my sources always fills me with wonder and reminds me why I love doing what I do, but many people out there may be a bit surprised about what our sources actually look like.
If you’ve visited our store, you know that we not only sell one-of-a-kind antiques, but we also offer products that can be produced in batches, such as salvaged raw materials and furnishings made of reclaimed materials. Because there is a lot of demand for these types of products and we want to consistently supply our customers with high-quality goods, it is best to partner with an established manufacturing company capable of supplying us at a rapid pace rather than an independent artisan or small antique shop.
Now, some people may feel disheartened learning that some of our sources are companies with dozens of employees rather than solitary craftsmen or small businesses. It’s common for those of us who love vintage finds to think that reclaimed pieces ought to come from smaller operations instead of some company or manufacturing center. I myself sympathized with this feeling…before I saw our partnered manufacturing centers for myself, at least. Another thing to keep in mind, and I cannot stress this enough, is that the furniture manufacturers we partner with in India, China, and Vietnam look very different from typical furniture manufacturing companies in the U.S.
Some of our most trusted manufacturing centers are really just a collection of local craftsmen working together towards a common goal. In many ways they are like the antique marketplaces we all picture when thinking of buying abroad. Instead of a pristine complex with high-tech machinery, imagine a collection of timeworn buildings laid out on acres of land, connected by rustic pathways, and inhabited by life-long artisans using their skills to restore antiques or create reclaimed pieces. These centers still use authentic salvaged materials to create our batch-made products; it’s just that they are more organized and more reliable when it comes to supplying larger businesses than a smaller operation.
As the demand for reclaimed pieces continues to skyrocket in the countries I visit, many of our sources are able to use their resources to collect both antiques and salvaged goods from all over a city or town and bring them to their headquarters to be cleaned, restored, and repurposed. Within the grounds of many of my sources, there are some areas full of employees who are dedicated to working with salvaged materials and repurposing them into new creations. In other areas they house rows and rows of restored antiques. If you enjoy the feeling of immersion you get when walking into South Platte Trading Company, then you would absolutely love exploring one of the manufacturing centers that I visit as part of my job. They are havens of traditional style and sophistication; veritable treasure troves of hand-carved excellence and time-honored craftsmanship.
After touring the facilities and meeting the owners, I next decide which of the products we want to acquire. Once all of the purchases have been made with exact quantities and shipping dates finalized, it’s time for me to move on to the next manufacturing center or return home. Once back at home, I spend my time working at the store, keeping an eye on my incoming purchases, and maintaining ties with our sources with the help of our QC Personnel. Our Sourcing Agents then set out to scour other parts of the country for new and exciting finds, and our Country Managers are overseeing another team as they begin their trip. After a month or two, I start planning for my next trip with a team focused on a different country, and the whole process starts all over again.
Looking back, it’s easy to see how my work has opened my eyes to the rich cultures of these proud nations, and I consider myself blessed to have a connection to places so far from home. After every trip I take, I come home feeling inspired, grateful, and excited to begin my next journey.