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It’s all about trust – Building successful relationships with overseas suppliers

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UK martial arts apparel business Scramble goes from strength to strength with the support of overseas manufacturers – MangoB2B finds out how. In this interview we put the spotlight on an up-and-coming British SME “Scramble” and its founder Matt Benyon.

Hi Matt, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule – can you tell us a little about yourself and your business Scramble?

Thanks for asking me! Scramble is a martial arts apparel and equipment brand that I started in 2009. I had lived in Japan for a few years and noticed that they had some very cool “fightwear” brands that eschewed traditional, violent imagery in favour of clean graphic design. My analysis of the western market found that it seemed to fill a gap. After two years of development while I worked two jobs, I was able to concentrate on Scramble full-time.

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How did you go about finding and choosing your suppliers?

We work with a few suppliers now. The initial process involved using the website Ali Baba. We’d send around ten emails to ten companies and await their responses. Some wouldn’t respond at all, others sent curt replies; but one or two sent well-written and knowledgeable replies that answered all my questions. We requested samples from those and made our selection based on the quality of those samples and the price. The other manufacturers we use have all come via word of mouth and personal recommendations. The Jiu Jitsu industry is quite friendly and we support each other a lot.

How important is trust in your business relationships?

Trust is incredibly important. No factory is perfect and they often make mistakes. However, having the trust that mistakes will get rectified is invaluable. We’ve built up relationships over the years to the extent that it’s no longer about finding the cheapest price or the quickest turnaround. It’s more about relying on that good working relationship.

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Have there been any obstacles in working with another business abroad? If so, how have you overcome them?

We’ve lost money through fraud –  a supplier said they would make bags for us, but then disappeared with the money. I sent him a heartfelt email saying that he had acted dishonourably and had only hurt himself in the long term. My contacts in China were able to track him down and he ended up paying us back half before disappearing again. As another example, one of our current suppliers has on occasion made an error in judgement by using inferior fabrics. As soon as we realised, we withdrew the item from sale and negotiated with the manufacturer, who ended up remaking the whole batch. The key to successful working is all about trust and communication.

Tell us about your recent visit to China.

It was an incredible experience. We visited the two factories that make most of our polyester/ spandex items, and also viewed a gi (kimono) factory that we are likely to be using in the near future. I knew before I left that I would learn things I wouldn’t previously have thought of, and I did. We found out about materials, their various properties, treatments, stitching style, stitching materials and so on – there are so many factors the factory will just decide on its own unless you specify exactly what you want. Culturally it was very interesting too. China is full of friendly, down-to-earth people and amazing food.

Photos courtesy of Matt Benyon at Scramblestuff.com

What’s the greatest thing you have ever tasted whilst abroad?

Ever?! It would have to be the premium grade Japanese beef (wagyu) which I ate in Kobe, so technically it’s Kobe beef. It’s dipped in salt and pepper and then lightly fried… it absolutely melts in the mouth.

As a close second, I’d have to say jellied sand worms in China  :-/

You can find out more about Matt’s company and its excellent product range at Scramblestuff.com

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