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Saturday, 18 August 2007

The Export World



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I have been working as an export clerk for the past 27 years. Things have changed a lot over this time. When I started everything was done by correspondence. Orders were sent by post, or made by telephone and the good old telex was used as a form of urgent communication. I am probably one of the few remaining persons that could still work with a telex today. The old machines where you made a tape punched with holes and let it run through to save time. Then the fax arrived which made the telex redundant and eventually the computer took over - need I say more. I wrote an article once for our works magazine, have now done an adaptation and this is more or less, from my point of view, what export is about today. Needless to say a big help is knowledge of foreign languages, steel nerves and a good organisation.

You arrive in the office in the morning at 7.00 o’clock. The first movement is naturally to switch on the computer. Whilst Europe is sleeping in its part of the world, other parts are working in their countries. The Australians are preparing for their evening at home, but the mails from their daily work are already on our computer. The Australians are already on their way home or to the pub for a cool Australian beer (XXX) and we are getting ready to feed the computer with their orders and prepare a consignment of goods.

Also the far east has been active during the night. Some time early in their morning somewhere in China, Japan or China the first people arrive in the office and begin their business day. They are deep in their daily work when we arrive in the office and until lunch time we know that the e-mail dialogue will take place with those countries. The questions vary – whether we can send advertising material, could we manage a special consignment for a good customer. Advertising material is usually delivered at the week-ends when the airlines make their collective flights for airfreight. And the good customer – somewhere in China a factory needs tools for a machine which has broken down. The tool is organised, a courier service called for (UPS, FEDEX, TNT or whatever) and the tool is sent to arrive within 2-3 days, although that is the actual service – it can be that the goods are kept in customs until the customer pays the duty and purchase tax to have them released.

During the afternoon one says goodbye to the far east and USA – in these countries the people are on their way home and go to bed eventually. Russia is still awake (about 2 hours difference) and it can be that they also have a few orders. With the world getting smaller, trade has developed considerably in the East European countries.

The Europeans – they are there all day. They sleep when we sleep and are awake when we are awake (although the British are a small exception, they are always one hour behind in Summer and in Winter). Since the expressions “just in time” has become fashion, we export clerks are kept wide awake and under pressure. No longer do you go to work, wait for the hours to go bye and then go home. It means that the European customers no longer have large stocks and depend on 24 hour delivery services with courier. The goods are ordered in the morning, or up to 02.00 in the afternoon, and you go home when the parcel has been picked up by a chauffeur who brings it to the next airport. All going well the customer receives the goods by lunchtime the next day. Usually by 04.30 in the afternoon the stress is over and you get down to tidying up the ends left. Documents are filed (or scanned), correspondence dealt with and customer specific problems dealt with.

Eventually the computer is switched off, the light extinguished and our evening begins, but somewhere in the world………

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