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How I started in the import export business

It was six months prior to me finishing up my master's thesis in computer science in 1992 when I got a call from a distant relative that owned a medical supplies company. I was in California USA and he was in Riyadh Saudi Arabia.

My uncle asked me how much time I had before graduating and then proceeded to say that he needed my help in getting in touch with a company that is close to where I was. He was interested in importing a shipment of Stethoscopes from them. My simple task to get in touch with their export department and see if they are ok with selling their products for export to Saudi Arabia given that they had a distributor in United Arab Emirates. The manufacturing company response could be one of two as he explained it to me; either they have an exclusive distribution agreement with the UAE subsidiary and hence he would need to buy it from the subsidiary; or they did not and it would be cheaper for him to import it directly from the source. It appears that the UAE subsidiary were raising their prices and my uncle's company were looking for an alternative to obtain the same goods while still maintaining a justifiable profit margin. He preferred not to directly ask the USA manufacturer just in case they inform their subsidiary of that contact and his company would get in unfavorable position with the subsidiary for trying to bypass them.

Would you do me the favor of getting in touch with them and simply asking the question? my uncle said; I answered with sure, it’s only a question anyway. He gave me their contact numbers and the quantity he was looking at as an initial order.

I knew nothing about importing and exporting but I had very simple task; ask a question while keeping the would-be purchasing company anonymous and then pass the answer to my uncle.

Later on in my unplanned new career as an importer and exporter, I met many others that shared the same business path with various starting points:

  • Some were local manufacturers that expanded their business to the global market by establishing their export department
  • Some were traveling on vacation in a foreign country and saw an item that they thought would be great to sell back home
  • Some went to a business school and specialized in international trading