How an impromptu journey to Morocco saved my business
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Every entrepreneur has the right to demand perfection from their suppliers, but what happens when the nature of your product means achieving perfection is nearly impossible?
This was the situation Lindy McLeod found herself in when she set up The Market Basket Co.
The boutique online retailer, which ships throughout Australia and internationally, offers a range of French-style baskets imported directly from Morocco.
Founded nearly a decade ago, The Market Basket Co. has sold more than 80,000 baskets – not bad for a sole trader who started with "one lever arch file and a spreadsheet".
The idea came to McLeod while she was living in London.
"I lived in London and went to Paris for a weekend and bought a few of these baskets... I used to load them like crazy and thought they were fantastic," McLeod says.
"I found out about a little service that would do a bit of research for you for not much money. I got them to find out where they came from."
"I found out they came from Morocco and I got a list of ex-Moroccan exporters and found one that spoke English."
"By this time, I'd moved back to Sydney. I didn't really intend to start a business but I had this in the back of my mind. Also, I had been working in large organisations and didn't like it anymore."
"I did some research and thought, why don't I give it a try?"
McLeod ordered a container load of baskets from the company she had found before enlisting the help of a second company to check over the samples.
"I wasn't going to Morocco – I wanted to do it all remotely. I sent the samples to a company that checks cargo in Morocco. They came back to me and highlighted all these problems with the baskets," she says.
McLeod became convinced she was being cheated by her supplier.
"The head of the company got involved and I more or less said, 'Keep your baskets' and broke off negotiations," she says.
"I went on the web and had a look for an alternative... and realised maybe I'd been a bit hasty."
"I had a friend at that point who was older than me and a very experienced lawyer. He said to me, 'Why don't I just call him and make it sound like I don't know what's happened, and try and get into a conversation?'"
The conversation went surprisingly well. So well, in fact, that the company encouraged McLeod to visit Morocco and see the operation for herself.
"To make a long story short, I went on a plane by myself to Morocco [but] I arrived without my luggage," she says.
Much to her amazement, McLeod was welcomed into the company owner's home. She was then taken to where the baskets are made and met the people who make them.
"They got their workers to unpack every single basket in the container and I checked every single one. Then they packed them up and sent them to me," she says.
"I spent two weeks with this family and with the owner, and found out they're a really lovely company."
"Meeting them and developing a relationship with them, and developing mutual trust, was vital."
McLeod realised that because the baskets are handcrafted, they can't always be perfect. She discovered she had been sent only the very best samples in the beginning.
"I still get a lot of second-class baskets, which I just sell a bit cheaper myself... I know how much work they put into trying to get it right," she says.
"I've got a second supplier as well. They're based in Marrakech and the first supplier is based in Casablanca, but the baskets are made in the High Atlas Mountains."
"For me, I would say be persistent and don't give up. Also, if you can't solve a problem, sometimes if you think outside the square there's another way around."This story first appeared on Women's Agenda sister site StartUp Smart