Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Shipments

We have a few new shipments coming in this week. More freshly made felted soap will be here on December 31st. We're also receiving some new small market style Bolga baskets in the next couple of days. It seems we can never have enough of these versatile African baskets. Last but not least, we're looking forward to more incense, women's shirts, and handbags from Nepal, like this gorgeous monk's bag.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Zulu Baskets

We have some beautiful new Zulu baskets in house. Zulu beer baskets, like the beauty pictured here are among the best known African baskets. They were used in lieu of pottery for storing and transporting beer and other liquids by the Zulu, and are remarkably rigid and sturdy. Called Ukhamba in their native South Africa, they are commonly given as wedding gifts by the Zulu. We're proud to now include Zulu baskets in our selection of African baskets.

Friday, December 24, 2010

New Bolga Basket Style

We've added a new style of Bolga baskets to our African basket collection: natural tapered oval baskets. We've been offering dyed versions of the tapered baskets for awhile, but natural colored baskets sell so well we keep expanding our selection of shapes and sizes. In 2011 we will continue to introduce new styles of African baskets, moving beyond our current inventory of Bolga baskets and Zulu baskets. We've barely scratched the surface of what the continent has to offer. Meanwhile, as far as we know we have the widest variety of types of Bolga baskets of any retailer in the country, and are ramping up our Zulu basket selection.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Hours

Tango Zulu Imports will be open from 10am-3pm on Christmas Eve, closed on Christmas Day, and open 10am-5pm on the 26th. You still have time to pick up an African basket, felted soap, beer soap, and other fun gifts. Merry Christmas to all!

Felted Soap

More handmade felted soap will be available for sale on January 2nd. We only have a few left in stock now, so if you try to buy in the next couple of days and don't see a fragrance you like, check back the first week of January and we'll be plenty to choose from. Felted soaps took us by surprise with their popularity and we've struggled to keep adequate amounts in stock (not a terrible problem for a retailer to have, and rest assured we're purchasing in larger quantities now.) Our felted soaps use the same cold process soaps as the rest of the Tango Zulu handmade soap collection, so they are quality through and through; and the high quality along with our reasonable prices make them a great value.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

New Draining Soap Dishes

We have great new juniper wood draining soap dishes. They are slightly concave to help keep your soap from slipping out, and have grooves that channel the water toward the drainage holes. They have a nice clean design and neutral color, so we think they will fit well with most types of décor. Our handmade soap, sea salt scrub bars, and felted soap all will last much longer if allowed to dry between uses, so this is a perfect companion for them.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

African Basket Update

We received dozens of new Bolga baskets, our most popular African baskets, this week. If you're looking for natural colored rectangle or oval Bolga baskets this is a great time to see a wide selection. We also have lots of new flower Bolga baskets in various sizes, and tapered oval baskets in both natural and dyed.

Bolga baskets are the work horses of African baskets, built for practicality and durability. Zulu baskets are more like show horses. Although they still are used in South Africa for storing and transporting liquids and dry goods, the majority of Zulu baskets produced these days are art pieces. They have a way of looking both deeply traditional and strikingly modern, and fit a wide range of décors. We are gradually growing our selection of Zulu beer baskets. If you come into the store and don't see one you like, ask as we may well have more in the back that you can view.

One of our goals for 2011 is to become the premier online retailer of African baskets, so look for us to continue to widen our selection.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Inventory Update

We have a lot of great new inventory coming this week. We have beautiful new soapstone carvings, like this gorgeous elephant bowl. More Zulu baskets are arriving today and will begin going up on the website tomorrow, and they are closely followed by new Bolga baskets that are due in Thursday. We're happy to be getting in more felted wool trivets and other beauties from Nepal tomorrow, as well as some nice simple draining soap dishes made from Juniper wood. Thursday we should receive more water hyacinth handbags and dragon kites. We have dozens of other new items coming as well, and our website is being updated daily. We still have plenty of other holiday favorites, like felted soap and beer soap. I think I hear UPS....

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Felted Soap

Felted soap continues to be a popular item. For those not familiar with felted soap, it is soap that has been wrapped in strands of sheep wool, dipped in water, then allowed to dry. The wetting and drying process shrinks the wool tightly around the soap. When the soap is used, it lathers up through the wool. The wool acts as a built in wash cloth, and it shrinks as the soap is used up, so it remains tight. The wool helps the soap last longer, and is naturally resistant to mildew. The soap used with our felted soap is handmade using the cold process method. We look at felted soap as more than a novelty item. They make beautiful gifts but are also quite practical, and we strive to keep prices reasonable. We love our felted soap and are proud of the quality and value.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Beer Soap and Other Gifts for Men

Beer soap has been a great seller this season, especially among men (and women buying for men). Our handmade beer soap is all natural, has a fresh hoppy scent, and lathers beautifully. We also have many cool masculine necklaces, like this Tibetan choker. This ox bone letter opener looks beautiful on every desk, and we have some striking ebony letter openers that are only available in the store. Check out our unisex wool and fleece hats from Nepal and African handwoven hats. We also have a good selection of 100% pure body butters that aren't the slightest bit "girlie." Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

New Inventory

We're anticipating new African Bolga baskets, Zulu beer baskets, olive wood utensils, kiondo bags, and a host of other new items in the next seven days. If you live near Port Gamble, come by and see what's new. If not, shop online and take advantage of free shipping on orders over $100. Some of our most popular holiday gift items are felted soap, handmade shampoo bars, handmade beer soap, African baskets, and IWAKO erasers.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fabulous Stocking Stuffers

Our felted soap makes a great stocking stuffer! We also have a great selection of other handmade soaps, sea salt scrub bars, and handmade shampoo bars at prices ranging from $4.99 to $5.99. We particularly love our handmade beer soap, which is a great gift for that person who loves beer in any form, and is also a flat-out great soap. We also have some mini Zulu baskets that are perfect for storing herbs and spices. Check out our selection of felted wool items from Nepal, like these coasters. We have scores of cool handmade jewelry items, like these yak bone wrist malas. We're also fond of our soapstone carvings. Enjoy shopping!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Zulu Beer Baskets

Our Zulu baskets are here, including this gorgeous Zulu beer basket. We're very pleased to expand our African basket collection beyond the Bolga baskets we currently carry. Zulu beer baskets, called Ukhamba in their native South Africa, rank among the premier handmade baskets in the world. These beautiful fair trade African baskets are woven from Ilala palm leaves and dyed with extracts from local vegetation. They are usually bulb-shaped with rigid walls and a tight-fitting lid, and the combination of an incredibly tight weave and the waxiness of the palm leaves renders them waterproof. When liquids are stored in them, the palm leaf pores swell and condensation forms on the outside, helping keep the contents cool. Traditionally these baskets are used for drinking home made beer, but we don't test them for water-tightness. These exceptional African baskets are striking works of art and help rural Zulu families earn a fair wage. Zulu beer baskets should not be confused with Zulu herb baskets, which we also carry. which have a looser weave to allow air circulation and are not meant to be water tight (we sometimes see herb baskets sold online as beer baskets, so be careful.)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Handmade Shampoo Bars

Have you ever tried a shampoo bar? Our handmade shampoo bars are long lasting, travel-friendly, and good for the environment. It's also nice not to have to dispose of a plastic bottle. To use a shampoo bar (AKA solid shampoo or shampoo biscuit), simply rub it over wet hair and it will lather right up. We're starting with a Plum Spice Shampoo Bar, which is for normal to dry hair; and a Tea Tree Oil Shampoo Bar, which is for normal to oily hair. If all goes well, we'll add more. The Plum Spice shampoo bar uses a synthetic fragrance, while the Tea Tree shampoo bar qualifies as a natural shampoo with 100% natural ingredients. At 3.5 ounces and priced at $6.99, they are a great deal (shampoo bars last several times longer than comparable amounts of liquid shampoo.). Try one of our handmade shampoo bars and see what you think!

Handmade Beer Soap

We carry two handmade beer soaps, Amber Ale Soap made from Widmer's Drop Top Amber Ale, and IPA Soap, made from Widmer's Broken Halo IPA. The idea of beer soap is off-putting to many people because they don't want to emerge from the shower smelling like they've been knocking back a few. The truth is that most beer soaps have a subdued scent similar to fresh baked bread, and little or no fragrance will linger after rinsing. If you've ever visited a brewpub and smelled the blend of yeast and hops, you have an idea of what most beer soaps will smell like. Our beer soaps are not novelties: beer is a logical ingredient to use in soaps. It has antimicrobial properties, suds well (of course!), and provides an appealing color and fragrance. Our beer soaps qualify as natural soaps as there are no sythetic ingredients. They make cool offbeat gifts, but I also urge anyone who wants a nice handmade soap that lathers exceptionally well to give beer soap a try.

Gift Ideas for Under $20

We have dozens of gifts that won't break the bank, ranging from Iwako erasers starting at $.99 to beautiful African baskets at $19.99. Felted soaps make a perfect stocking stuffer and are beautiful, fragrant, and useful. This recycled silk hat is only $17.99, and we have plenty of other great hats from Nepal for the same price. The bamboo clutch pictured here comes in multiple colors and is a steal at $14.95. The list goes on: beautiful chopsticks for $1.99-$2.49, sea salt scrub bars for $5.99, Kenyan ox bone necklaces for $19.99, and much, much more. To find more great deals, choose a category on our website and select an option under Shop by Price on the left side of your screen.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

More Felted Soap

We have more felted soap in stock, including some new fragrances. In addition to what we were already carrying, we also now have Rosemary Lavender, Peppermint, Chai Tea, Cinnamon Buns, and Pine Forest. Felted soap, AKA Fuzzy Soap AKA Felted Wool Soap is soap with felted wool wrapped around it. It is made by wrapping the soap in wool fibers and wetting it and rubbing it until the wool shrinks snugly around the soap. then allowing it to dry. It's a failry labor intensive process that results in a soap with a built in scrubber. As you use your felted soap, the soap will lather up through the wool, and as the soap shrinks so does the wool. When the soap is all gone, you can use the remaining wool as a scrub pad. Felted soaps are beautiful and practical items that we're proud to carry.

Friday, November 26, 2010

What is a Natural Soap?

Natural soaps by definition contain no artificial ingredients. Some of our Tango Zulu brand soaps qualify as natural, others don't. Here's what they all have in common: they are handmade with all natural vegetable oils, lye, shea butter, and in some cases a natural colorant. Some contain additional natural ingredients, including sugar, oatmeal, anise powder, dried lavender, and many other items to add fragrance, visual appeal, or texture. What separates our natural soaps from the others is the fragrance. We use synthetic fragrances for some of our soaps because it is simply not possible to get every fragrance in the form of a natural essential oil. A great example is our Plum Spice soap, which is our best selling soap. There is no such thing as plum essential oil, so we use a synthetic fragrance that is non-toxic and accounts for less than 2% of the soap.

We're also very much aware that many people wish to avoid even small amounts of synthetic products in their skin care, and we're proud to carry several varieties of natural soaps. Our beer soaps are fantastic. Beer is naturally antimicrobial, and as you know from watching it foam, it lathers up just fine! Beer soap tends to have a scent similar to fresh baked bread, and the color ranges from golden amber to rich dark red - depending, of course, on the type of beer used. We also carry peppermint natural soap, which is singularly invigorating and refreshing. Our lavender soap is a natural soap as well, and it looks beautiful and smells divine. For an ultra mild, fragrance-free natural soap, try our olive oil soap. We also always include at least one natural sea salt scrub bar in the rotation - currently Ginger Citrus and Peppermint.

Long story short, if we only carried natural soaps we couldn't provide all the fragrances people expect and love. However, even our soaps with synthetic fragrances are far closer to a true natural soap than the vast majority of mass produced soaps.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Felted Wool Soaps Have Arrived!

Felted wool soaps have arrived, freshly made, fragrant, and beautiful! For those who aren't familiar with them, felted wool soaps are simply soaps that have been wrapped in sheep's wool. When the soap gets wet, it lathers up through the felted wool, which exfoliates as it cleans. The wool shrinks as the soap diminishes, and when the soap is all gone you can keep the wool as a scrub cloth, or cut a slit in it and insert a new soap. We think ours rival anyone's in terms of price and quality. The soap is the same great quality handmade soap made by the cold process method as our other Tango Zulu brand soaps. I think a great holiday gift idea is a small flower Bolga basket with a few felted wool soaps in it!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

New African Basket Category

Our African basket collection has grown large enough to warrant its own category on the website, so you will now see an African Baskets section with subcategories by style, such as Market Baskets and Oval Baskets. We still have a catch-all Handwoven Baskets subcategory under home and Garden that encompasses all the African baskets as well as those from other areas, like our Thai water hyacinth baskets and our felted wool baskets from Nepal, seen here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Felted Wool From Nepal

We recently began carrying fair trade felted wool products from Nepal, like these oven mitts. They have received such a warm welcome that we are adding to the collection. In addition to felted wool oven mitts, coaster sets, trivets and pot holders; look for felted wool baskets and purses within the next couple of days. These items perfectly fit our criteria of being hand made, fair trade, beautiful, and practical.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Shamila Jewelry

We are proud to carry earrings and necklaces like this that are handmade by noted Seattle jewelry designer and gemologist Shamila Jiwa. Shamila is known for her creative use of unusual stones, especially labradorite, a fiery gray-green stone that we find reminiscent of the Pacific Ocean. The quality of the stones and craftsmanship alike are apparent in all of our Shamila jewelry. If you are interested in a particular piece and wish to see alternative images of it, just let us know and we'll be happy to oblige.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fair Trade Items from Africa

We're proud to stock some fabulous fair trade items from Africa, like soapstone carvings, wood bead bracelets, and handwoven baskets. If you're looking for unique, handmade gifts that help support artisans with few options for making a living, you should give these a look. As with all our items, they ship for free on orders over $100. Pick out a fair trade African basket and other treasures and let us pay for shipping! Also, if you stop in to our gift shop in Port Gamble, the free shipping also applies to store sales over $100.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Art in the Woods 2010

Art in the Woods is coming up Nov. 12-14 and is looking to be just fabulous. This self-guided studio tour of North Kitsap artists will include 19 stops and dozens of artists. It’s a great opportunity to see artists at work and buy some wonderful products. This year the Beverly Hooks Fine Art Studio in Port Gamble is on the itinerary. Her work is beautiful, and her studio is just across the street from Tango Zulu, so please stop in and see her and if time permits, dash across the street and visit us! We have a fresh new shipment of African baskets in, more beautiful soapstone carvings, and some gorgeous new felted wool kitchen products. We encourage the public to support artisans both locally and in developing countries.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Halloween in Port Gamble

Bring the kids to Port Gamble on Halloween between 1pm and 5pm! Most of the businesses are providing entertainment and treats. If you can, please bring a can of food per trick-or-treater to Dauntless Books for donation to the food bank. Tango Zulu Imports will be giving away candy all day.

While you're here, check out our African baskets. We just got a shipment in this afternoon, so inventory is at its peak. We also have IWAKO erasers and other cool things for the kids. And as always, we have plenty of clothing, handmade soaps and sea salt scrub bars, African jewelry, and much more!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

10% Off African Baskets With Orange in Them!

To celebrate autumn, we're offering 10% off all African baskets with orange in them, like this one, through the end of November. Because there's no viable way to make this special work on the internet, it's only good in our Port Gamble gift shop - sorry! Just remind us when you buy the basket about the special so we remember to key in the discount. We'll be very liberal in our definition of orange, and the special applies to all shapes and sizes of African baskets. It's a great time to pick up a Halloween candy basket or a bread tray for the Thanksgiving table. Many of our Bolga baskets have orange tones that range from a golden-orange to a rusty-brown color, so it shouldn't be hard to find one you like. Happy fall!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Well Loved Hat

One of our internet customers purchased two African straw hats from us, and was kind enough to send these pictures of the hat they were replacing. Now that is a well loved hat! It also looks quite a bit like the West African straw hats we carry, which are made in Burkina Faso. I love getting the background story from customers, especially when we're able to help with a hard to find item. I hope the new hats provide as many good years as the old one did.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Ideas for Autumn

The maples and elms here in Port Gamble are turning vivid shades of red and gold, and the town is gearing up for a full slate of paranormal-themed events this month. We have a nice assortment of African baskets with orange, rust, and gold hues that make perfect fall accessories. Small Bolga baskets are ideal for either gathering or dispersing Halloween candy (the small market baskets and small and medium flower baskets in particular.) We have Tanzania and Ghana fruit baskets that would look lovely at a Thanksgiving dinner, and plenty of other sizes and shapes in seasonal colors.

Prepare for the cold with our merino wool shawls from India and our hats and gloves from Nepal. We have them in kid's sizes as well as adults.

We're open seven days a week, 10am-5pm, except major holidays. If course, you can shop online anytime, and we offer free shipping for orders over $100 throughout the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii.

Happy fall to all!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

IWAKO Erasers Have Arrived!

I believe we are now the only store in North Kitsap to offer IWAKO erasers. These environmentally friendly, non-toxic, collectible erasers are made in Japan and are popular around the world. We have a large assortment of penguins, pandas, cupcakes and other adorable IWAKOs available both in the store and online. We're adding more items for kids, since they seem to love the store but often can't find anything to fit their budget. IWAKO erasers are safe, recyclable, inexpensive, and cute - and we are finding that adults love them as well!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Great New Inventory This Week

This week we're excited to get more kisii stone (also known as soapstone) carvings from Kenya. We're also getting Kenyan necklaces and bracelets to add to our diverse ethnic jewelry collection. We are very much looking forward to our first shipment of IWAKO erasers. These Japanese pencil erasers are wildly popular with kids, and adults can appreciate the fact that they are recyclable and non-toxic.

Last week was a monster week in terms of new inventory, so we're bursting with African baskets, Nepalese clothing, Indian copper and silver jewelry, and much more. We're getting it up on our website as quickly as we can, but keeping up with processing new inventory is something we haven't fully mastered.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

African Bolga Basket Giveaway

The Kitsap Daily, a blog covering communities, businesses, and events in the Kitsap area, is sponsoring a giveaway of one of our small market Bolga baskets. Just go to their website for the details (it's super easy to enter.)

Speaking of African baskets, we just got in two big shipments of Bolga baskets this week, so we're at peak inventory. If you've been thinking about buying one, now is a great time because our selection is so large. And a reminder....we offer free shipping anywhere in the U.S. on orders over $100.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Journey Of A Small Business Owner #6 - Financing

For a long while, the television refused to let anyone ignore that banks were not making loans and small business were in dire needs for those loans. We kept hearing that some businesses couldn't make their payroll because they couldn't get short term loans from the banks, and I thought, "well, if you have to borrow from the bank to make a payroll, your business isn't run right."

I still believe that. But our own experience with the banks did validate that claim. As individuals, we had a spotless credit history, but as a new business, Tango Zulu Imports had no credit history. Even though I could have purchased an automobile on my personal credit card, the same bank would not issue me a credit card for the business with enough credit to buy a tricycle.
So was it the case that after careless lending that led most banks to the brink of collapse and some over the edge, banks were now overly cautious? Clearly not all of them. Another bank that I have not done any business for several years has a standing offer of a large line of credit at rock bottom rate. Even the bank that made such as fuss about approving a lousy $500 credit card line, when we showed little interest, mysteriously approved a business credit card with credit line 40 times more than we cared for.

There are many hurdles along the path of starting a new business. Dealing with banks and its strange responses was the smallest of them.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Spirit Of Port Gamble

Many say that Port Gamble is a haunted town, after owning a business in that town for over four months, I can't say I saw any ghosts, but tonight, I certainly witnessed the spirit of this community.

Our business, Tango Zulu Imports, had the honor of hosting the monthly Kingston Chamber of Commerce (KCC) after hours event. Around 5pm when traffic around this town usually slows down, local business owners started showing up at Tango Zulu Imports, and their presence brightened up an otherwise gloomy early fall day. Quickly, the rooms filled up, where people drank wine, dined on delicious BBQ generously donated by Mike's Four Star BBQ and enjoyed a fabulous coffee concoction by Gamble Bay Coffee.

Other local businesses such as Best Friends Antiques, the General Store, Olympic Resource Group, The Salon & Spa on Gamble Bay and Tango Zulu Imports all contributed door prizes. Linda Fyfe, the executive director of KCC, picked the first winner of our door prize drawing, then each successive winner picked the next winner. As if by design, the manly prize of cup and saucer went to John, owner of Olympic Outdoor Center, who quickly discovered the proper use of the trophy as a beer cup. The masculine prize of hair care went to Jack Harrington, who, I'm glad to say, did not find immediate application for his winnings.

Everyone had a lot of fun and it is always wonderful to connect with the local community. We are thankful for everyone who came to the event, and all the local businesses who contributed to make this event such a great success!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Planning for Winter

As Tango Zulu Imports' first summer draws to a close, we're largely focused on how to thrive over the winter in a town that depends largely on summer traffic.

We continue to grow our online business. As in our storefront, Bolga baskets have turned into a major attraction on our online store as well. Our e-commerce sales have increased by double digits every month since we've been open. Most of our energy for the past four months has been directed toward the storefront, but now that it's sailing along we're beginning to spend more time on improving our web presence. We're making a concerted effort to get more of our products on the website, improve its aesthetics and performance, and increase our brand name awareness. We also just instituted free shipping for orders over $100, good throughout the U.S., and will be running various specials in the coming months.

We need to reach more local people. We made a decision early on to keep prices at North Kitsap levels, as opposed to tourist levels. This has paid off with both repeat local customers and happy tourists who have sometimes turned into internet customers. It also allows me to continually freshen inventory because it's priced to move quickly. There is still much to be done with marketing. I'm aware that A LOT of locals don't know we're here. Just about every day someone who lives nearby will come in who had no idea we existed until they walked by. I can't wait for the whole county to walk in through the door and discover all the things we have! We've selectively run print and web ads with Sound Publishing (our marketing dollars are scarce), and will hold some special events in the coming months. Word of mouth is helping as well, as is old-fashioned networking on top of the Facebook type, and we're a member of the very active Kingston Chamber of Commerce. The real test of how well we've done with building a local base will come in those cold, dreary months after the holidays.

The summer has been good, but it'll be interesting to see where we are in another four months!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Fulani Hats – Products At Tango Zulu Imports

As the temperature rises, the popularity of our Fulani hats rises with it. At Tango Zulu Imports, we carry three different styles of Fulani hats, all at very competitive prices.
The Fulani people are the largest nomadic group in the world, concentrated predominantly in West Africa. They are largely nomadic cattle herders and traders. The straw hats, known as Fulani hats, are used by these cattle herders to shield themselves from the African sun.
The largest is the Mali Fulani Hat. This hat has a large brim, the diameter of the brim ranges from 14″ to 17″. The brim is trimmed with leather and its end is marked by two black woven stripes where the rise of the crown starts. The conical shaped crown measures 6″ to 8″ tall, and is topped off with a patch of leather and a topknot with tassels. The smallest of our Fulani hats is almost identical to its bigger brother, except it has a narrower brim and several leather patch decorations around the base of the crown. Both of these hats have a long adjustable leather chin strap. Both hats are handmade in Mali.
The third variation is the Fulani Hat from Burkina Faso. Similarly leather-trimmed at the brim, the leather decorative patterns at the crown are more elaborate and the crown is round, unlike the topknot of the Mali Fulani hats.
I own a Mali Fulani hat myself, which I often use when I work in the field or garden. Sometimes, I wear it around town. I know there are many more people who have purchased the hat from Tango Zulu Imports, from both coasts of the country and many more within the state. Maybe one day, I will run into one of them and then I will tip my hat to them!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Growing A Small Business - Journal of a Small Business Owner #5

Founding and managing Tango Zulu Imports has been an experience both challenging and rewarding. We are two well-educated, smart, driven and business-savvy individuals who had long harbored ambitions to run our own business. Tracy majored in International business while I had a economics minor; Tracy had been a partner and CFO in a start-up, while I had studied business structure and financial analysis for business investing; I have a very strong technical background to help our website along - I worked at Amazon from its early days through its meteor rise as a core part of its online website teams and have been a senior network architect for many years. We were confident we had a pretty solid background in the business and technical sides of our adventure. We analyzed our business plan, financing and operating models and our projections are for the most part, right on the money. We were also aware that marketing was likely our weakness.

Prepared as we were, we were somewhat surprised at how demanding running a business is, even a small one. I took some time off from my day job and we spent many 14 to 16 hours days to get the business up and running. For every thing we had considered, there were two more that we did not take into account. Light bulbs, curtains, hangers, printer paper, programming and learning to use the cash register, formulating an inventory tracking system....We finally let out a long held breath when the store opened. A myriad of new tasks came along - display arrangement, product photos, price tagging, signs, shopping bags, shipping boxes...

Since we started this business, Tracy has been spending 9 hours a day, 7 days a week at the shop, and at night, we both get on our second job of preparing all the things that needed to be done for the website and the business in general. We started one business, but we have both been working as if we had two jobs.

The joy of all this is a sense of fulfillment. I can say this without blushing because as much as I would have enjoyed monetary rewards from the business, we are only nine weeks into our adventure and are a ways from becoming a profitable business. When majority of our customers who come into the store show their appreciation of the goods we sell, when so many of them tell us we have reasonable prices, when so many of our local customers return and bring their family and friends, we believe we have done something right. Our stated business mission is to bring unique and quality goods at reasonable prices to our customers. We believe that through our hard work, and treat our customers as we would like to be treated as customers, we will, as many of our customers tell us, do great.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bolga Baskets At Tango Zulu Imports

We carry a large variety of Bolga baskets, which are known worldwide for their quality and beauty. These tightly-woven baskets are handwoven from Kinkanhe grass in the Bolgatanga region of northern Ghana and colored with vegetable dyes. Most have goat skin handles, although we carry some without leather for those looking for vegan products. They are all fair-traded, are made of all-natural products, are endlessly versatile and remarkably durable. A woman came into our store once using a Bolga basket as a tote, and when I inquired about it, she revealed that she had purchased it in Africa forty years prior. Through decades of heavy use the only repair it had needed was a new leather cover for the handle.

What are they used for? Let me count the ways... I have a large market basket I use for harvesting vegetables. My customers have used various types for sewing kits, fruit baskets, toy containers, book totes, kindling holders, laundry baskets, shopping bags, and a host of other tasks. One customer even uses a pot basket similar to this one as a lunch box.

If they ever need to be reshaped or cleaned, you can wet them thoroughly with cool water, then shape and clean them as needed without the dye running. In fact, exposure to water will make the already tight weave even tighter and stronger.

With their combination of beauty and function, it's no wonder Bolga baskets are well-loved and well-used by so many people.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Carved Bone Boxes

One of our most popular items in the store is the Bone Box with Two Cats. Carved out of Ox bone, this box measures 3 1/4 inch long, 1 1/2 inch wide and about 2 inches high. The lid has copper hinges and snaps shut in the front. Two prone cats are carved on the lid, lying amidst grass. Their silly expressions reminds me of my own cats, waiting patiently for the little mouse they thought were hiding behind the sofa.
The size of this box makes it an ideal jewelry box.

Bone carving has a long history in Chinese culture. A bone carving of a human face was discovered in 1982 dates back to 6,000 years ago and is believed to be one of the earliest artistic bone carvings. Beijing, Zhejiang, Inner Mongolia, Guangdong and Fujian province are the main producers of modern bone carvings.

We also carry Bone Box with Cricket, Bone Box with Frog,Bone Box with Rabbits and other similarly intricate bone box carvings. Come visit our store if you are near Port Gamble area, or visit our online store any time!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Journey of a Small Business Owner #4

The sun was already up at 6:30am, promising a great day ahead. We have been working very long hours every day since we came back from Omaha on Monday. We came home from the shop well after midnight last night, having started the day mid-morning. Exhausted as we were, we were excited that in 32 days, we took the idea of a business into a physical location, stocked with goods and ready for business, despite my absence of a week and our four-day visit to Omaha.

Tango Zulu Imports officially opened for business at 10:15am today, May 8th, 2010. For the first couple of hours, we were still trying to understand how the cash register worked and anxiously, though neither Tracy nor I said anything to each other about it, waiting for our first sale to come through. Couple hours later, we finally had a pair of nice ladies who came in and made a small purchase and started the life of Tango Zulu Imports. Amidst the relief of having made the first sale, we became even more anxious, not knowing what lies ahead. Things took off from there. We had many groups of people who stopped by the store, despite the complete lack of any advertisement. We were happy with both the sales activities and feedback on the first day. The feedback was fantastic, almost everyone loved the store and thought our pricing was pleasingly reasonable, and goods we carry unique and wanted by the area.

It was, after all, a fantastic day for Tango Zulu Imports. Now I just need to get back to get our website going.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting Notes

The owners of Tango Zulu Imports are in Omaha, Nebraska attending one of the largest capitalist conventions - the annual meeting of Berkshire Hathaway.

We arrived at Omaha and took a quick nap before heading out to the cocktail reception at Borsheims. The scene at Borsheims, which is a Berkshire holding, was not unlike that of a popular concert, except that the audience was comprised of people of all ages and different walks of lives. The credential hanging around our necks served as the secret password into the building, and fighting against the dense crowd, we finally made it into the center of the building and got us couple of drinks. Borhsheims was shoulder to shoulder with drink-toting shareholders ogling the jewelry. As we were admiring a diamond ring for $15,000, someone walked up next to us and asked where the jewelry above one million dollars are sold. What is money after all, hey? We settled for free drinks and lots of meatballs.

We are looking forward to the annual meeting tomorrow, when the Oracle of Omaha will talk about how Berkshire fared last year and impart his wisdom. All in all, it's been a good day.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Journey of A Small Business Owner #3

Tango Zulu Imports took another step forward today. Most of our ordered inventory has shown up and we moved some of them into our store front. I have been spending most of the evening creating product images - a painfully slow and tedious process. On the bright side, we had our cousin Liz here tonight to help us with product evaluation and design of store front layout. Liz is fantastically experienced with retail store design and had ideas that seemed so simple and natural yet they were ideas we'd never think of on our own.

We met with a jewelry maker yesterday. She had a great selection of beautifully crafted earrings, rings and necklaces. Her work is also featured in the Seattle Art Museum and we are glad to feature her items in our store.

I am planning to take a week off in two weeks to help the store get ready for the grand opening. Things are looking up, though whenever I start looking at the details, it is difficult to avoid being stressed. I'd never thought starting a business would be such a difficult process. Not in a technical way, but in the millions of little things that seem to spawn out of each other.

However, today is a great day for Tango Zulu Imports.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Journey of A Small Business Owner #2

Although it took us several years to decide on starting our own business, once the decision was made, we kicked things into high gear from the start. Within days, we finalized our business plan, made decisions on corporate structure, completed capital and financial analysis, decided on store location and finalized our inventory. Now committed, we started living through periods of elation and nervousness. We feel that we have done our homework and taken into account all factors that are within our control, the rest, as the saying goes, is up to chance.

This process seemed strangely familiar. It reminds me of the time when we bought our house, probably the biggest investment that we've ever made, yet from the conception of the idea to putting our signatures on the paper took less than six weeks, and we only spent one day looking at houses!

We have been very happy with that adventure, now that we have lived in the same house for more than a decade. Although starting a business is nothing like buying a house, I believe we have prepared for this new adventure as well as we are able.

Besides, the inventory has arrived. We have a lot of work ahead of us to set up the store front. If you are interested, look through our online store and let us know if you want something. We aren't officially open for business yet, but do let us know before my wife decides to keep everything for herself - she's completely in love with the goods we got!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Journey of A Small Business Owner #1

We have, as many entrepreneurial souls, entertained the idea of starting our own business for a long time. There had always various reasons and excuses that stood in the way of carrying forward that idea - what business, how to run it, how to finance it, and most of all, what if we fail?

In early April, 2010, we finally put together a business plan and gathered up enough courage to tread into the unfamiliar territory of starting a retail business. On April 6th, we received our business license and the company was born.