Nate and I arrived at the FedEx office on Broad Street in Monrovia in the morning a little after 10:00. Between us, we carried 210 beach bags hand-sewn by the Women's Sewing Co-op in Robertsport. Each one had been double-checked for quality control (are the seams strong? is the hemming tight? is the pattern facing the right way? did the sewer embroider her initials?) by Solomon and me, and folded precisely into a small roll of colorful fabric by Solomon. We were there to send the first installment of our first major order (550 bags total) to the States for a major conference. And also, we were wrong.
How wrong? Well, let's just say we'd quoted our buyer a FedEx price that was actually less than one-third of the real price--more like a quarter. And we're giving her a major bulk discount on the bags, so we don't have much wiggle room. I think this shows on my face, as I slowly look over to Nate and announce, "I don't think this is going to work."
We've got close to 45 women, 15 Co-op members and the friends they're teaching, working non-stop for the last three weeks to fulfill this order. It's the first major order we've had since receiving the U.S. Ambassador's Self-Help Grant to up our marketing and distribution this year. It's also, according to my research on Liberia and the U.S. Africa Growth and Opportunities Act, the first time Liberia has exported textiles to the U.S. since the civil war.
But this wasn't going to matter, because our assistant had misquoted FedEx prices at such drastically lower rates--quotes that we'd passed on--that sending the bags was going to loose us a few thousand dollars. I looked at Nate. I looked at the FedEx manager. And I explained that I didn't know what to do. And I was silently freaking out about it.
Usually, in these situations, the private sector will retreat to their profit margin, offer professional sympathy and send you on your way. But that didn't happen. Instead, Ernest offered us a steep discount on both shipments. I was stunned, grateful and rather amazed. We're sending the entire shipment of 550 bags via FedEx now, everything is arriving right on schedule, and we could not have done it without them. Cool, eh?