If the shoe fits — wear it on either foot
There are bountiful lessons learned on franchise trade missions, such as the one I was just on to Latin America. Executives from the 13 companies who attended were privy to insider info on the culture, safety issues, supply chain logistics and the business opportunities of three similar, and yet, very different countries. I learned you can buy shoes that fit either foot.
It wasn’t something the U.S. Commercial Service brought in an expert to discuss; I had to uncover this phenomenon during our mall tour in Guatemala. One of our guides pointed out a shop that sold designer shoes made of plastic (jellies). Since we were stalled waiting for stragglers to catch up, three of us ventured inside. Most of the shoes were a little too over the top for my taste, but then I saw a ballerina flat with black polka-dots on a transparent beige background, with a price tag of $50. Knowing this might be my only chance to get a tangible memory of the trip, I asked to try on a pair.
“You don’t understand,” the clerk told me in an attractive accent. “You only buy one shoe.”
“But I have two feet,” I replied, perplexed.
He sighed. (Funny how a sexy accent doesn’t translate well into heavy sighs.)
I’m not the only person who falls into the two-feet-per-person category, but that doesn’t matter when you’re holding a Melissa by One shoe, which comes in nine complimentary designs and fits either your right or left foot. If you buy three shoes, you have six pairs! I live in a loft with limited shoe space, so I felt obligated to buy two shoes. Think of it: For $150 (I bought a third shoe on the Internet when I got home), I got six different combinations! I can wear the polka-dot shoe on the right foot or the left with the stripe one or the half plain one. It’s genius.
I can’t wait to hear from our controller when I expense the shoes. Suffice it to say, I’m pretty sure I’m the only person on staff who saved the company $450 in international travel expenses.
While I never forget to pack shoes, I usually do forget to pack something essential when I travel. Business travel tends to financially punish people who come unprepared. My lack of packing foresight, meant I had to pay the hotel sundries shop’s outrageous price of $6 for a tiny roll of dental floss. So much for saving the company money.
However, IFA’s Josh Merin, who arrived early to Costa Rica and was able to take advantage of a sightseeing trip to nearby waterfalls, had a higher price to pay. The guide, or perhaps it was the hotel clerk, insisted he have both sunblock and mosquito spray. Sunblock, he figured he could live without, not so much for mosquito spray. The cost of not dying: $20 a can. I might have hedged my bets with the bug spray and gone for the sunblock. Father Time is doing enough damage, I don’t need Mother Nature helping out.
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This is going to be a news alert, but it’s much more fun to go on a franchise trade mission than to stay home and proof the directory that accompanies the travelers on their journeys to faraway places.
This year because of scheduling conflicts, I had to skip going to South China and the Nordic countries, instead having to be content to visit Costa Rica, Guatemala and El Salvador. Which is no shabby alternative. I can only image what dental floss would cost in Sweden or Norway.
My only complaint about trade missions is that there’s little time to explore the country—which is why touring malls has become my sightseeing experiences.
At the high-fashion Arkadia Mall in Guatemala, we were given the royal treatment. On the way to the briefing, I asked one of the managers accompanying us about the shuttered slide that ran between the up and down escalators. He grimaced when he said a mother ignored the warnings that the slide was designed for children’s weight and had gone down it with her child and landed hard on her bum, thereby causing them to close it. What a shame. Mothers aren’t supposed to ruin children’s fun until they’re teenagers.
We were fed Auntie Anne’s pretzel bites and cappuccinos before being shown the mall’s state-of-the-art movie theater. Two long rows of chairs in the middle of the reclining seats were designated as 4-D seating. To allow us to experience 4-D in all its spine-tingling glory, our guides beamed up a short trailer of “Star Trek,” followed by “The Polar Express.” The seats sway and vibrate in response to the action on the screen, so your stomach lurches as the train speeds down the almost vertical drop and you find yourself drawing back as the spacemen come hurtling toward you.
“That was awesome,” I said, as we were leaving. “Any chance I can come back and experience ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ later?”
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In El Salvador, during a discussion on free trade, I couldn’t understand why they kept bringing up KAFKA. I’m pretty well read, although for a former English major I’m finishing a lot more best sellers than classics, but I was having trouble understanding how a German-born writer who was known for surreal themes of alienation fit into franchising. Finally it dawned on me that I was being ethnocentric. If they had called it NAFTA, I would have understood the conversation because I’m a North American, but CAFTA didn’t resonate with me.
Now that I think about it, I wonder if the timing for two of the three trade missions was deliberate on the part of the U.S. Commercial Service and IFA. Hmm.