How I (Almost) Became a Chinese Import Magnate

In August of 2011, I received an interesting email from blog reader who wanted to get together for a beer while he was back home for a holiday.

Now I get emails like this a lot, but not usually from people living in Guangzhou, China who are doing something completely different than most of my readers.

I was intrigued enough to say yes, and a week later I met Nick Ramil for the first time.

There’s been a few times in my life where I’ve had conversations that have made me completely rethink the world around me:

  • Sitting on Copacabana beach talking with my buddy Ryan talking about how there had to be a different way to do things
  • The first time I met Chris Guillebeau at a Starbucks in 2009.
  • On my second day in Bangkok, when Dan Andrews was like “So, wanna pop down to the islands for a couple weeks?”

While maybe not quite as profound, this conversation with Nick opened me up to a whole new type of entrepreneurship and an opportunity that I didn’t fully realize was possible.

At the time they were in the middle of manufacturing iPad cases to send back to the US, but more importantly, they were bringing products in to China as well – specifically Pacific Northwest wine.

“It’s easy to export stuff out of China. It’s much more difficult to import stuff in to the country. But if you take the time to do it right, the potential is unlimited.”

This wine business is now poised to do 7 figures in revenue this year.

Nick and I met again in December when he was home for Christmas, and that meeting was enough to push me over the edge. I had to go out there and see it for myself.

The following April, I booked a ticket and went out for the Canton Fair.

I had two ideas for products I wanted to create – while both were good ideas, I just wasn’t ready to commit to the project.

Luckily (or unluckily) for me, other people were successful with my ideas, as seen here and here.

What was most interesting about this trip, aside from going here:

Yangshou HDR

Wasn’t the products, it was the opportunity that Nick, his partner Tim, and I kept coming back to.

Beer.

“We’ve done it with wine, now we want to do it with beer. And we think you should be our American partner.”

How’s that for a far departure from an online lifestyle business?

“We have everything in place because of wine. You just need to get the breweries on board and help out with logistics to get the beer to our consolidation point so we can put it on the boat.”

I didn’t talk about this much on the blog, because at the time I didn’t think it was totally relevant. This was an entirely different type of business than I usually talk about. I also didn’t want to publicize it too much while we were still in such early stages.

For about a year, we worked on this on the side.

I had 4 large breweries that were ready to go and let us be their exclusive distributor for the Chinese market.

We had the sales guy on the ground in China, and because of the wine, we had a complete plan for distribution.

So what happened?

Well after a lot of conversations, number crunching, and another trip out there – we decided it wasn’t the right time to do it.

The effort wasn’t worth the reward.

Sure the bragging rights were awesome, but there were a few fundamental issues we couldn’t get past:

  • Margins – Margins on beer are much lower than they are on wine. Even though an American craft brew is a luxury good there, and you can definitely charge higher prices, the amount we’d need to ship for everyone involved to make good money was very high.
  • Shelf life – Many of the beers we wanted to take to China had a shelf life of 120-180 days. When you factor in time from brewery to the docks, time spent waiting on other product to come in so we could get a container, time on ship, processing time at CIQ in Hong Kong, transportation to mainland China etc. it gave us very little time to sell the beer. Note: Some breweries don’t care about this. I’ve had beer 18 months expired in Hong Kong.
  • Commitment – It just wasn’t there. Location Rebel was starting to take off, as was their wine business, so we both kept dragging our feet.

When it came down to it, we realized the time wasn’t right for any of us, and the effort wasn’t going to be worth it for where we were.

That being said, I won’t say it will never happen. We still have the right pieces in place to pursue it if we want to – but for the time being, it’s not the priority.

So, Why Tell You This Now?

Like I said previously, I haven’t mentioned this much on the blog, mostly because it never quite got to the point where it was relevant.

Nick, Tim and I have been looking for ways to work together ever since – and we finally found the right project.

I’m really excited to announce that tomorrow will be the beta release of “Enter China.”

This is a community specifically designed for people who want to do business in China.

Nick and Tim have unbelievable connections and a great network in the country, and we wanted to not only create a place where others could leverage that network, but to have a place where we could all share our knowledge on what works and what doesn’t in the country.

7 figure business importing wine. 6 figure business creating the world’s first stone and steel watch.

Bottom line, they know what they’re doing, and in Enter China you get access to their knowledge on the country, my knowledge on marketing, and access to the collective knowledge of the community.

Starting tomorrow at 8am PDT, we’re opening up the doors for Enter China for 24 hours only. We’ll have 100 spots available, and once they’re gone, we won’t be opening the doors back up until the site is at 100%.

Not sure how to create that million dollar idea that’s in the back of your head? Know of a unique product that isn’t in Asia yet? Or something that isn’t in your home country and should be?

Enter China is the solution, and one that will save you hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in learning curve.

Interested in getting down on the beta? Head over to Enter China and sign up for our free book “The Beginners Guide to China.” We’ll be emailing out the link to join tomorrow morning to everyone on the list.

Tate March 26, 2014 at 1:16 pm

This is an interesting post for me because I have been involved in the beer game for a while. I’m curious as to what the beers you were looking to take over were? Did you choose certain styles for longer shelf life? I would think high abv beers would work best in this regard, but this brings up another possible issue: beer scene.

Is there any beer scene at all in China? There is a huge craft beer movement in America going on, and even with that large movement, craft breweries are only seeing a very small market share. I would think part of the process would be some kind of education on beer to people in China. Something along the lines of, “Hey, try this IPA, it doesn’t taste like shit like Bud Light.”

I wonder what kind of market share AB has in China.

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Bret March 29, 2014 at 11:55 am

Sounds rad. Good luck!

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Nathan March 31, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Sean,

Great article! I’m looking forward to joining the community. I too export wine to China but from Napa Valley, California.

Would love an opportunity to chat with you and see how I can help. My HQ in China is in Suzhou. About an hour away from Shanghai. Here’s my website http://www.silvercarriagewines.com

Talk soon,
Nathan

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Hazel Lau April 3, 2014 at 12:51 am

Great to see you here, Nathan. Just drop by to see how’s thing going. :)

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Jonathan April 26, 2014 at 2:57 am

Sorry Sean,

I have to get this off my chest, but you wouldn’t have been a magnate.

You’re in the business of selling the dream of living the “lifestyle” as oppose to being a real entrepreneur… and Enter China is just another example.

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Sean April 26, 2014 at 9:34 am

You should tell that to the two people I created Enter China with. 7 figures in revenue annually, and a lifestyle that allows them to travel the world whenever they want.

Personally, I’m really good at helping people get to $3-5k in income. That gives them the freedom to choose what they want to do. Continue doing the same things they did to get to that amount, or take the confidence and the time they now have and scale it up to a sexier/more profitable venture.

And just out of curiosity, what’s a real entrepreneur to you? In my mind an entrepreneur is someone who starts a business that solves a problem. You can ask any of the people I’ve worked with, and I think they’ll tell you I’ve done a pretty good job at solving their problems. I’ve seen countless startup founders that you probably consider “real entrepreneurs” that come up with bullshit tech businesses, that dont really help anyone, and do it all for the prestige of being funded. And if thats how you look at a “real entrepreneur” then you’re right, that’s definitely not me.

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