A Different Kind of Girl Friend Experience (GFE) Part 5, The Big Deal
2 days later Steve was again going through Customs with some serious goods in his baggage, but this time it was arriving back in Los Angeles with 250,000 baht…$10,000, the maximum allowed without declaring it. This was 2/3 of the gross proceeds from
the sale of the 250 jeans Steve had taken to BKK, and although this should have netted out about $4,500 of profit he wasn’t sure how much real profit this venture actually had turned. There was the $500 “duty” on the jeans,
the gift for Khun Matinee, special handling, his hotel and expenses and most likely the entertainment laid-on by Khun Eddie. But rather than cash, he thought that perhaps the real benefit had been the good-will and face they had gained by delivering
the goods at such short notice.
As it turned out, that seemed to be the right call, because a couple of weeks later he was called by Chanida to come over to her house for a special meeting. Since his return he had barely seen her and when he did she seemed rather aloof and even disinterested in him, not wanting to share any of the intimacy they had enjoyed before he took the last shipment to Bangkok. Knowing that sometimes she was sensitive about personal matters, he only gently broached the subject and didn’t pursue it when she ignored his inquiries. But he did wonder about any possible connection to Khun Eddie and his subtly-veiled but obviously suggestive comments in Bangkok.
When Steve arrived at Chanida’s house he found that both Bas and Krtisana were there already. After a few social niceties and some comments about the success of the last shipment, Chanida announced that due to the goodwill from the last trip, as well as the general success we had achieved, that they had the opportunity for a really big shipment. After all, this had been their goal from the beginning so they were all very excited at the prospect. Buyers in Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket had between them ordered 5,000 jeans, to be delivered in bulk within 90 days. Steve’s mind raced as he tried to calculate the cost, let alone the gross and net cash-out. Jeeez! That was about a cool $175,000 up-front, but the return had to be over $100,000!! Chanida had already prepared a spreadsheet with the figures and sure enough Steve’s estimates were very close. She had also included the figures for the reserve in Bangkok as well as their cash in the US, which combined came to about $80,000. So they had to come up with about $100,000 cash – $20,000 each if split equally. But if split according to their shares in the company Steve’s cash-call was $17,000. That was manageable for Steve. Of course, his portion of the net proceeds would be proportionately lower, but that was Ok as the net payout after covering the up-front money would still be about $17,000 also. That would give Steve some play money and he had his eye on a red Ducati 919 motorcycle plus matching Dainese leathers.
Once they decided to do the deal the pressure was on to find the wholesale sources for that many jeans. Maybe through their normal local channels they could come up with 1,000 but the other 4,000 was a problem, so they had to get creative and go further down the delivery chain, closer to the factories. At least 90% had to be new, and that was lucky because the volume of good quality used and vintage jeans was drying up noticeably. In fact, they knew that some used jean suppliers were making their own distressed jeans from brand-new 501’s but the result just wasn’t the same as genuinely used Levis. They had developed a really good contact with a senior buyer at the now defunct Miller’s Outpost chain, where they had gone for decent numbers of 501’s before, so they called him to arrange a meeting. The risk was that the Levis factory would realize that a sub-wholesale deal was going on, and they would cancel the contract with Miller’s Outpost. After all, the factory wanted to sell their product in the Asian markets directly and this kind of underground deal cut them out, even if it moved a good volume.
When they met the Miller’s Outpost buyer he confirmed their suspicions: he could supply at least 2,000 pairs but he wanted a sizeable kick-back to make the deal happen. They explained that the margins in the deal were thin and they could offer him $2 per item. He countered with $10 and in good Thai tradition they settled on $5 per item. Even though this was more than the $4 they had budgeted, it gave the buyer a good incentive to source even more product for them. Steve saw that the buyer was a player and figured this was an opportunity they should exploit to the max, so he went out on a limb and sweetened the pot by offering an extra $1 for every 500 over 2,000 that he came up with, with an additional 50 cents for every one over an additional 1,000. Steve knew from glint in the buyer’s eyes and his barely suppressed grin that this definitely got his attention and after a few minutes of animated exchanges he felt the buyer would come through with big numbers and at least 3,000 pairs. Steve also knew from the daggers looks from his so-called partners that they didn’t appreciate him stepping in and taking control, certainly not without first consulting their self-proclaimed superior business acumen. “Screw it,” Steve thought, “this is how to do a deal and I’m sure the guy’ll come through. Getting him to do some of the grunt work was surely worth the small premium they’d have to pay.” Of course, that was a perfectly logical and rational way to look at it for a Western business mind, but not for the short-sighted Thai mentality that often could see or think no farther than the end of their typically squat noses.
Their attitude was obvious after the buyer left, but the deal was done and no Thai tantrums were going to change that.
That left them with the final 1,000 pairs to come up with. Steve started to mentally list out all the typical sources, starting with a run-through of the supply-chain: manufacturers (only the Levis factories); wholesalers and retailers. OK, so who are the big wholesalers: BellBottom, Inc, Indigo Fashions; Redlines and a few others. Maybe there was some way to get access to their stock, but that may take time and again would be risky as the factory may find out and black-list them. So, what about the retailers? They already knew most if not all the West Coast firms, but what about other parts of the country. That was when Steve flashed on a bit of a twisted proposition…what about other parts of the world? And specifically, what about Thailand? Yup, why not buy from the competition right in-country? Of course they’d pay a premium but then again that would include the shipping, special expenses, the “finder’s fees” like to the Miller’s Outpost guy, warehousing, and avoid a lot of hassles. But they could offer to move an awful lot of inventory for a few of the larger dealers in Bangkok, notably the ones who also had a retail outlets at Mahboonkrong or the Chatuchak Weekend Market. And this is where their local fixer, Khun Eddie, could really help them out as he knew the players, had the connections and would relish scooping the competition. Ha! The more he thought about it the slicker the idea became…but he also knew that there was no way the Thai trio would let him come up with another brilliant marketing gambit. So he’d have to introduce the concept in such a way as to allow the Thais to think it was their own idea.
First he had to appear to go on the defensive. The next day he called Chanida to apologize for his rudeness and brashness in offering the Miller’s Outpost buyer the deal without even consulting with her and the others. He knew that she felt he had made her lose face with Bas and Kritsana and that to re-balance things he had to enable her to get it back, with interest. That meant he had to lose major face to her, and even to the other 2 also. She was gracious enough to allow him to offer the apology but still too upset to accept it, so she ignored his propitiation and told him off for being so inconsiderate and rude. He groveled and pleaded for forgiveness, but again she didn’t directly respond. But it was enough to let her feel somewhat superior and start the manipulation to his ultimate advantage.
He hung up and called one of his trusted personal sources, Bob “Big-E” Crawford, and briefly went over their big deal and Steve’s idea. Bob promised to come through with 250 pairs, but more importantly agreed to help sow the seeds of the idea to get the jeans in Bangkok. Two days later Steve met up with Chanida at her house and casually suggested calling Bob and a couple of other dealers to confirm when they would deliver on their commitments. Bob was primed for this, and was at his shop ready to take the call. On the speakerphone he agreed on a date, and then casually turned the conversation to some other opportunities. This was Steve’s signal to apologize that he had tummy problems and had to go to the bathroom, thus leaving Bob to talk with Chanida out of his earshot. This was Bob’s chance to brainstorm some ideas with Chanida and say how he had a client in Korea who had needed to come up with a bulk order fast and how he had negotiated with local wholesalers in Seoul to buy up their excess inventory at a few dollars over cost and how that had made the deal happen. As Steve had anticipated Chanida immediately took the bait and probed Bob for more details, which he gladly shared with her, plus told her that Steve also knew about it but he had never liked it because he thought it was a short-sighted deal that would upset the locals. Bob added that Steve was smart about most things but he was really stubborn about this and even though it was a great idea and could make their deal work he’d never share it with them. He could feel her take the bait, hook line and sinker…he didn’t even have to pull back on the line as she swallowed it hard. That insight into Steve's stupidity was the angle Chanida needed to get back at him and skewer him in front of the others, and Bob could almost feel her gloating.
When Steve came back from doing his business he hammed it up a bit by groaning and complaining about the burritos he’d had for lunch and warning Chanida not to go into the danger zone for a while. She ignored him and immediately announced that she had an idea that would solve their problem and suggested calling the others, including Khun Eddie, so that unlike Steve, she could share it with the team and see what they all had to say. Steve was impressed and made a note to send Bob a bottle of Patron tequila as a thank you for a job obviously very well done. Conveniently, everyone was available and Chanida could grandstand for her audience. She proceeded a little tentatively by saying she was only one voice of the 5 of them, and did not want to assume that she could speak for them but she had an idea she wanted to share with everyone so that they could all consider it. Steve knew that everyone understood the underlying message, but kept quiet as with added confidence Chanida went on to explain the idea Bob had told her, while adding that maybe this was the kind of plan that Thai people would understand better than farangs but that she wanted to know what Steve thought of it. Steve played along by agreeing that as he wasn’t Thai or Asian maybe he couldn’t appreciate the cleverness and simplicity of the idea, and that it was something he’d never have thought of, and in fact he wondered if it could even work at all. This was the exact taunt that Chanida needed to make her determined to ensure the plan would work, so she went on the attack by prodding the others to comment. Khun Eddie spoke first and glowingly commended Chanida for such a creative and smart idea, and with that lead Bas and Kritsana piled on the compliments and then they all started to discuss who they could approach, how little they could offer and how many jeans they could get.
After a few minutes Chanida turned the attention back to Steve by asking him what he thought about it now. This was once again the perfect tee-up for Steve’s drive to the pin for a hole-in-one, and he stepped up to the ball swinging his best Tiger Woods stroke. He cleared his throat, paused for dramatic effect and in a meek and yet sincere and clear voice announced that he realized how the brilliance of Chanida’s idea was beyond him and how he wished he could see things the way she and Thai people did, but as much as he tried he failed, and that this was a real reminder of how much he had to learn.
No one acknowledged him but that was the response Steve had expected, that Chanida had made her point and gained back plenty of face at his expense. The Thai sense of balance was restored, even though Steve had no idea just how heavily weighted it was against him, as was the case for so many farangs.