The TAYP Handicraft Export Initiative, sponsored by the US Department of State, is committed to a long-term sustainability strategy to increase Tunisian artisan access to the United States market. Part of the strategy includes creating access that extends in both directions; the artisan to the US market and the buyer to the vast Tunisian artisan producer community.
As part of TAYP’s commitment to ensuring the success of the selected artisans in the US market TAYP and its partners: Tunisian Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Tourism and Handicraft invited five US Buyers, including high profile designers, online retailers, multi-retailer buyers to the first buyer’s trip to Tunisia, held on January 17-20, 2016.
The purpose was to create a stronger linkage between the US buyers and the artisan community in Tunisia. During the initial stages of the Handicraft Export project, TAYP focused on highlighting artisans in five previous exhibitions in the U.S. Through these exhibitions, buyers have become more aware of Tunisian Handicrafts, and the style and quality they can expect from this sector. The U.S. buyer’s trip served to immerse the buyers in the culture and heritage reflected in the handicraft. Now the buyers are better poised and more passionate to promote the handicraft in their own professional circles.
The TAYP team spent over two months recruiting export ready artisans to exhibit at a mini fair, held at Office National de l’Artisanat exclusively for the visiting buyers from the U.S. The initial buyer recruitment began with an email campaign, face to face recruitment at the August 2015 NYNOW Gift Fair and finally working with a U.S. consultant to finalize the selection.
The twenty selected artisans received training throughout the program to increase their capacity in terms of marketing, design and communication. Buyers that attended the fair gave valuable feedback to the artisans in terms of design and U.S. market needs. Artisan profiles were developed by the TAYP team and those profiles were used to recruit potential buyers and help match the exhibition to the buyer’s market needs.
TAYP organized a closing reception for the buyer’s trip which was distinguished by a visit from the US Ambassador to Tunisia, Mr. Daniel Rubenstein, and several high ranking Tunisian government officials. The presence of the ambassador and the other government officials reflects their recognition of the importance of the handicraft sector, and their commitment to support it.
Some notable outcomes of the buyer’s trip include the immediate orders that were placed, the follow up orders that are still being negotiated and most importantly the potential partnerships that are developing between artisans and world renowned designers.
Following this exciting development, the Tunisian Handicraft sector was represented for the 5th time at the NYNOW Gift Fair in the U.S. January 31-February3, 2016.
The TAYP team, in partnership with ONA, selected 7 artisan companies to showcase their handicraft to a potential 40,000 professional retail buyers from all over the world. ONA financed 600 square feet of exhibit space in the Artisan Resource section of the show. A benefit of the good relations between TAYP’s Handicraft Export project manager and the show management resulted in TAYP being able to secure an additional 100 square feet of exhibit space, a $6000 value, at no extra cost.
Prior to the show, the TAYP team sent emails to potential buyers and created artisan profiles posted on the NYNOW website and buyers guide. The artisans had a pre-show training concerning buyer expectations, questions US buyers commonly ask. TAYP team provided the artisans with necessary tools for a successful business transaction, such as order form templates and email follow ups. The TAYP team also assisted artisans individually with sales lead follow up, invoicing and record keeping.
The TAYP team handled shipping logistics, in country transportation and lodging logistics for the artisans.
During the show, sales were brisk including sales of over $100,000 the first day. The TAYP team noted that TAYP’s new U.S. distribution center had a noticeable impact on the interest and confidence of the U.S. buyer. Over 70% of the orders placed were direct results of the assurance of a US based representative and warehouse. One buyer, who has been in the industry for many years, related to Anis Mnif “how much I want to buy from artisans, but I have been burned in the past, because the shipping ended up costing me three times the cost of the product. I am happy to know that I can deal directly with a US representative and can count on TAYP’s distribution center to deliver my goods.”
It is an understood business principle that the largest percentage of the revenue stream comes from repeat, rather than first time buyers. The TAYP team emphasized this to the artisans and set up a Customer Relations Management system to assist the artisans in following up on leads, fulfilling their orders and generating loyal, repeat customers.
The TAYP team and artisans were especially pleased to be invited to a happy hour, organized by TAYP member Zied Mhirsi. It was a great time to relax after the work day, and was greatly appreciate by all who attended.
By working closely with ONA and the US Department of Commerce as well as by leveraging the network and partnerships we have created through this project, the TAYP team will heavily promote and help recruit U.S. buyers to the International Handicraft Tradeshow in Le Kram, Tunisia.