International importing of goods is obviously a huge part of the US economy, and we at TG&T have our own small corner of that market. While it's an effective way to do business, it does have it's challenges.
First of all, you have to have a well established and reliable business partner that produces parts, who know what they're talking about and can understand what you need. These relationships seem to be a little bit rare, but TG&T has cultivated excellent connections by being clear and responsive business partners.
One thing we keep in mind is ethical business practices. Countries outside of the US don't always have the same standards of workforce management, and we have made sure the countries/manufacturers we work with are on the up and up. We make sure to meet with our contacts at NAMM, ask questions and keep the lines of communication open.
Speaking of communication....yeah that can be a bit of a challenge. We have learned that writing/email is far easier to get your message across correctly. We've learned that syntax is important. Leave out overly descriptive and unnecessary words, be very clear and deliberate, like a robot. This is super important because we often have to request complicated concepts. For example, recently we made a request for a dual-gang A500k/A250K pot, both pots logarithmic, with no anti-log reverse taper.....you get the idea.
Time is a major factor. When we order parts, our manufacturer begins *manufacturing* them. They don't have things pre-made and sitting around in bins. This means...it can take a while. Generally, it's at least a month, sometimes longer, especially if you are having them make part to your particuar specs. This presents a challenge for keeping inventory in stock.
Price fluctuations and trends are other factors. Imported goods prices, at least in our sector, will go up reliably every 2 years. This is to be totally expected, adjusting for inflation and the cost of production changes. However, some categories of items will trend up at odd times. We've seen this with guitar tuners. Most noticeably, we've seen this with blade switches, like the 3-way and 5-way switches you get in teles and strats. If you notice they have grown more expensive in the last couple of years, you're not wrong. For whatever reason, they are costing more to produce.
Shipping, shipping, shipping. Importing goods to the US means shipping, duties and other import costs that are super expensive you have to account for when researching items you want to import. It's a huge chunk of money.
Our experience with shipping has been mostly positive. Goods are delivered via EMS (international shipping service) and generally arrive a week after we are told it shipped. There has been a couple problems in the past such as boxes being punctured/items missing, or the manufacturer sends the wrong things, or they forget items...all these things are pretty easily dealt with and don't cause major disruption.
We did, however, have a recurring issue early last year with import duties. UPS would show up with our packages and tell us that import duties were due...always hundreds of dollars. It was a mess. We had to figure out how to pay them, and then figure out how to make UPS let the driver know the duties were paid so they would release the packages to us. We would be reimbursed by our manufacturer, but it was a huge mess. The manufacturer didn't know why it was happening either. We came to figure out that the shipments with the extra unpaid duties were coming in through the port of Vancouver, and the duties were being applied as it crossed from Canada into the US. We since have told our manufacturer to instruct EMS to only use the port of Los Angeles, which solved the issue. Just a totally crazy, out-of-nowhere problem that we had to adapt to and solve.
We get questions, nearly every day of "can you get this part in this color" or "can you have this part made this way." The answer most of the time is yes, however, whether we do it or not is another story. We have to consider what it would cost us to have it made, what are the order minimums (generally in the 100's when we're talking pots and switches) and will anyone else buy the item, outside the person who is requesting it.
This was just a little informative journey into the daily challenges of importing guitar parts. Regardless of all this, the issues are minimal, and we have a great relationship with our manufacturer and very much enjoy what we do.