Paros, end of August – I was at my Greek grandma’s place because she had Wifi, to arrange the very last things for my project. I just ordered my first big order of 1440 Solar Jars. 3 pallets would be shipped from Durban, South Africa, crossing the Atlantic Ocean to arrive eventually in Rotterdam. I had 4 parties that ordered the Solar Jar in big numbers to give away as a Christmas present or as a business gift. For the ones that don’t know what I’m talking about: The Solar Jar is a jar of glass that is charged by any light. Sunlight, but also artificial light. I import this from South Africa, to sell it here in the Netherlands B2B.

So, when I came back from our beautiful Greek island and as I was being hazed at the fraternity of Amsterdam, I had to arrange a lot of stuff. Every customer would have his own company logo on the jars, to give it an own identity. The sample process went too slow, and one thing I learned is that South African people do have a far different work pace than we Dutch people have. This process of making the samples took approximately just over one month, and after changing the logo for one of my customers – because at the end they changed their mind about how the logo should look like – the production of the 1440 units could finally start.
A good friend of my father, who lives in Wadeville and is entrepreneur himself, is my contact person with the supplier of the Solar Jar in Johannesburg and made sure everything would go by plan. The production process would take 3 weeks, and when this was over, the transport process would start.
And there the drama started.
I believe there were 5/6 different parties involved in this process, and the communication went criss cross. There were a lot of miscommunications and when South Africa said it was settled, the Dutch logistic company said it wasn’t because of this and this, driving me crazy and at some point I lost the overview which really frustrated me.

One big thing I learned from this is when you are dealing with a different culture in a foreign country, be on it from the beginning, give enough pressure from the start to ensure everything will be arranged on time and you will not get in trouble with your customers.

And guess what, I got in trouble. Big time. As I told my customers the Solar Jars will arrive early December, so the jars will be perfect on time for Christmas, I got an email that the Solar Jars will arrive in Rotterdam the 27th of December. This was the point I freaked out. Bad scenario’s popped in my head like: ‘’What if my customers tell me it’s too late for a Christmas gift and they don’t want the Solar Jars anymore? What if they demand a huge discount?’’ I would loose a lot of profit or would end up with a huge stock that I couldn’t use anymore.

I received an email that they were not happy at all and actually quite disappointed too. They told me if they did not have the relation between us as we do now, they would told me they didn’t want the order anymore. I would loose a lot of money. So for two days I was thinking how to solve this. It was really no option to loose my customers.
Then something popped into my head: Christmas is too late, so why not a New Years present to start off the year ‘bright and shining’? Or in Dutch: ‘Het jaar stralend beginnen’. I set up an email apologising for the delay, and explained the situation. I suggested the solution I thought of and told them I want to make it from a bad, negative situation into something positive.
The reactions I received were not what I expected. They were so surprised of my email that the marketing department of the company of my father’s friend called my father asking if I had already a job because we want that guy to work for us in the way he is dealing with situations. This was a really big compliment for me.
One thing I learned from this difficult situation is that satisfied customers are key and priority number one. Always communicate with your customers, keep them updated and let them know you’re on it. They will see you really do your utmost best to fulfil the needs of them. If your customers are not happy you will not be able to do business.

Calvin Koumans
Team BITE.