Throughout the years we've been writing about e-commerce, one thing has held true: By researching online business models, you can meet the most varied and interesting group of people, anywhere, and you never know exactly who you'll meet next.
We put out a call to learn more about how people are using Alibaba.com to source products and inventory, and that's when we met Arash Afshar, Ricasshay and C-Rey. The three friends and business partners have been working on their music, art and Web site, DiegoBrownProject.com, for nearly two years. Within the last year they discovered Alibaba.com. This profile is the second of a series we're writing for Auctiva that demonstrates how various merchants are using Alibaba.com to transform their business ideas into realities. Read the first article.
The Diego Brown Project combines the talents of a celebrated underground lyricist, DJ and graffiti artist, Ricasshay; C-Rey, a visual and applied artist and emcee; and project manager and visual artist Arash Afshar. The three have worked since early 2009 to promote the evolution of music to include design, photography, performance art and video. The three friends formed both a creative collective and a hip-hop group.
Having mock-ups and/or examples of your desired products to give to the sales reps will definitely save you some time
Now, we fully admit that the realm of hip-hop music is not where our experience rests, but the use of Alibaba.com applies to anyone who is looking to source products, and that's where two generations can come together to learn from each other. We asked Afshar to share his international product sourcing experience with us, and we learned a lot about how creative people of all generations can find what they need on the site.
"Prior to using Alibaba.com we would simply do Google searches for suppliers," Afshar tells us. Of course, everyone knows you can find practically anything via Google, but once you find a potential partner, then what? "We were referred to Alibaba.com by a friend and fellow musician who had found a great deal on custom T-shirts."
The three friends had been looking for two items, specifically. First, they were searching for custom USB drives. They wanted these custom drives so they could load them with their album and offer them to fans as an alternative to a compact disc or a download of their music. They also wanted to source blank T-shirts in assorted colors. With their graphic and visual design background, the group wanted to be able to create their own custom T-shirt designs and imprint them with their visual images.
"So far, we have used Alibaba.com twice and the outcome has been positive," Afshar says. "The drives were 1GB drives with our group's logo printed on them." Afshar ordered these from a distributor in Korea, and reports that everything with that transaction went smoothly, despite the fact that there were some language challenges. They worked to overcome that barrier and found the rest of the transaction went very smoothly.
The second order, for the T-shirts, came through a manufacturer in Canada. Again, the transaction went well. Perhaps most surprising for Afshar was how quickly the orders were processed and shipped.
"Both times, the orders were filled and shipped quicker than I would have expected," he says. "The first order arrived in less than 10 days from the order placement. The second time the order arrived within about a week."
To avoid some of the challenges with language differences that the group encountered, Afshar recommends finding graphic ways to clarify what you want from the manufacturer.
"Having mock-ups and/or examples of your desired products to give to the sales reps will definitely save you some time," he explains.
For these three friends, the real benefit has been in finding products that are unusual. Afshar is nothing if not a creative powerhouse. "Find me a project and a cause I believe in, throw me in the deep, demand I come up with new ideas and watch me shine," his LinkedIn profile proudly exclaims.
At first, you might think these are not e-commerce merchants, but the definition has certainly blurred in the decade we've spent writing about building online businesses. The Diego Brown Project lives online in ways many musicians and artists have uncovered. The group posts downloads, uses social networking for marketing purposes and maintains a Web site that includes a store where fans of the group can purchase merchandise. In many ways, this is a natural evolution of the early e-commerce pioneers. So many aspects of our lives now blur the lines between virtual and "real," and this may be especially true in the field of music and art.
I would recommend Alibaba.com to anyone looking to do custom merchandising
Afshar sees online merchandising and international product sourcing as a great opportunity for artists and musicians.
"I would recommend Alibaba.com to anyone looking to do custom merchandising," he says. Perhaps no group can better make use of the marketplace than the small and struggling artist. "It is a great tool, especially for independent artists and musicians," Afshar adds.
This group of entrepreneurs often works hard to promote their artistic endeavors; certainly e-commerce and Alibaba.com have made this task much more manageable. Afshar highlights this niche market group as prime candidates for exploring Alibaba.com. He describes his goals in turning to the site this way: "We're independent artists and musicians who handle our own product supplies, and want to have out-of-the ordinary products available to our fans and followers."
Alibaba.com has made that not only possible, but also simple. The group has had such good experiences in sourcing its custom items through Alibaba.com that they will certainly return to the site for more.
Many Auctiva customers now have the advantage of being able to source their own products by clicking through a tab on their Auctiva home page.
Aside from the caveat of keeping things graphic when working with international sales representatives, Afshar has one more piece of advice:
"Keep in mind that Alibaba.com should probably be skipped if your order is less than 50 pieces of your product," he notes. That, of course, is not usually a problem for Auctiva users, who can easily put together an order that makes it worth their while—or turn to Alibaba.com's AliExpress site for smaller-quantity purchases. Won't it be interesting to see where the blurring of e-commerce, commerce, online and offline takes us next?