As I sit here on the balcony in Dubai overlooking the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, I think to myself, how in the world did I get here? The magnificent city, the friendships, the partnerships, the growth, the opportunities, and the limitless optimism towards a lifetime of dreams coming true. The story of my Dubai adventures took years to make happen, but I’ll re-cap my journey as concisely as possible here. Sit back, relax, and get ready to read about the wild adventure that’s taken me half way around the world time and time again. The journey hasn’t been without challenges or obstacles, but I’ve loved every minute of the ride.
Several years ago, my primary business, Restaurant Equipment World, received a visitor from a Google search for the term “restaurant equipment”. That visitor subsequently did an online chat with one of my young sales associates, simply asking a short series of general questions. Next came the e-mail and order inquiry which was immediately brought to my attention. The request? Could we fill up two 747′s in 8 days with heavy restaurant equipment to be sent to the Middle East? Surely this was fraudulent? Surely this was a joke? Surely we couldn’t have ever gotten this “lucky”. As it turns out, luck is a matter of being at the right place at the right time and being well prepared to embrace the opportunity. The total order was around $2 million US dollars, huge dollars at the time, but a huge risk as well. I asked for a million dollar deposit to proceed. This would undoubtedly separate the men from the boys to determine if this inquiry was legitimate.
A day passed and still no money, but there was regular communication from the customer which was a good sign. The next day arrived and I was off to an industry meeting with several of my vendor partners. I was excited about the prospect of this deal being legitimate, but too hesitant to share the good news with others for fear I’d be viewed as someone who was chasing a pipe dream. Then it happened. I’ll never forget the picture text message from my assistant – $1 million US dollars had just arrived in my account. Wow, it’s real. We’re really doing this. I was quickly asked what to do now, my response was simple, “Ask for the next million dollars!”
The days that followed were wild and intense. Our industry works on lead times of weeks and months, not days. If we were going to pull off the impossible, I’d need to call in every favor from every manufacturer in our industry. Turns out growing up in this industry and having friendships with President’s and CEO’s pays off in spades when the chips are down. As luck would have it, I was already at a major industry buying conference at the time so much of the communications could take place face-to-face with our vendors. This was a huge plus and ultimately would help to make for a successful outcome. My sister (our VP) and I divided up responsibilities and engaged our vendors requesting immediate action. One vendor in particular blew my mind with their handling of the situation. Unfortunately, they couldn’t fulfill the order by my deadline. Instead of accepting failure, the President of the factory personally called his competitors to determine industry capacity to meet my requirements. I was amazed, appreciative, and honestly will send every bit of business I can to that company in the future. A situation like this really shows you whom your true friends are in the industry.
Upon receiving firm deadline commitments, factories started churning out products. We were providing our customer with a play-by-play of the progress of each item numerous times each day. But wait, there was a holiday. We’d gained an extra day to pull off this feat, or so I thought at the time. We contacted our customer and asked if a day delay was acceptable due to the holiday. I’ll never forget the response, “Weekends and holidays do not count. A deadline is a deadline. Deliver on time as promised or send back our money.” I quickly learned the meaning of never giving excuses and always executing flawlessly with delivery schedules.
The deadline was looming and we still didn’t have the next million dollars. Frantic calls to factories ensued with all hands on deck at my company. While we’ve done plenty of large dollar orders, this one was different, this one smelled of opportunity and adventure. I needed my best and brightest to all pitch in for a successful outcome. Without exception, every single staff member stepped up to the plate and performed like rock stars. I was so incredibly proud of my team. As the final hours of the day before delivery counted down, we were all set with most products, aside from one major group of items. Would we make it? With the help of a valued partner, the answer was clearly affirmative. The manufacturer sent one truckload of equipment out as they frantically raced to build the final pieces. These weren’t small items by any means, they were full sized pieces of commercial cooking equipment. To make their obligation, the vendor ended up shipping several massive crates on an airline flight to make the delivery on time. I definitely owed them a lot of thanks and genuine appreciation. Once again, a valued vendor partner would show me how much they valued our relationship by coming through when I needed them most.
The items were in place, we had delivered to the freight facility as promised. I was at a conference in Austin at the time of delivery, so I temporarily abandoned my luggage in my rental car while I took off on a cross country flight to meet staff members of mine already at the delivery location. This was an important order and it was imperative that myself and my team be personally involved to make sure everything was accounted for properly. After all, at this point, I knew nothing about the folks at the freight facility we were working with on this order. As it turns out, they are fantastic people who run a first class operation with a dedication to perfection. Between my team and theirs, every crate was inventoried, counted, re-counted, and inspected. Everything was perfect. Life felt fantastic, we had pulled off a miracle.
While I was riding an emotional high of accomplishing such an impossible goal, we still had one slight problem – we were still lacking a million dollars. It was go time, this was one of those moments in life you’ve got make a decision and take a risk if you want to reap the rewards. Go big or go home. I went big, really big. I authorized the planes to be loaded full of equipment. A tense day ensued, would we get paid, or was I the world’s biggest sucker? Needless to say, the next million dollars arrived, right about the time the last pieces of equipment were being loaded heading to Dubai, on time, without excuses. Victory at last! We were home free.
I’ve never been an international traveler in the past. That often surprises people who now know me for my global jet-setting on a regular basis. I had only traveled to Canada and the Bahamas, but those hardly count as international since they speak our language and accept our money. Heck, I had never even been to Europe. On a wing and a prayer, it was time to head half way around the world to give a handshake and a thank you to our customer. Flights took me to London and then onto Dubai, United Arab Emirates. I was a complete fish out of water, I had no idea what I was doing, no idea about local customs. My only “formal” education about the Middle East was derived from quick Google searches waiting for flights at the airports. The customer meeting was fantastic, though was quite short after traveling 37 hours to see them. I was none-the-less greatly appreciative of their order and my new friends in the Middle East. Upon arriving back at the hotel, good news awaited. It turns out they didn’t order enough fryers. $150,000 to be exact. Could we help? You betcha! I thought to myself, “wow, I’ll be back next week to do this all over again if this is how things are done here.” I didn’t realize the full value of being here in person to build relationships and say thanks until this very moment. Later in my adventures, I’d learn this is key to doing business anywhere in the Middle East. Relationships and reputations are everything, that makes this story especially fascinating since this first order didn’t follow the normal course of business in the region.
In the months and years that followed, so did more trips back and fourth to Dubai. Each trip brought new business partners, new friendships, and more business. Before long, customers began developing a deeper trust and started requesting items other than restaurant equipment. First, it was electrical equipment. Next came plumbing, then medical supplies, then auto parts, then our world exploded with the diversity of requests. Not only were there industrial types of items, but also items such as video games, Christmas trees (shocking for the Middle East), decorations, fire fighting equipment, body bags (yes, you read that right, morbid, but true) – you name it, we were selling it. Suddenly, Restaurant Equipment World didn’t seem like the right name for our organization now that we had become a general procurement company. We own roughly 220 trademarked “World” names so wanted to stick with this theme. Critical Supply World was born. Critical Supply World would be my company that would provide everything and anything required by my customers. The premise behind this company is doing everything fast. Extremely fast. Rapid procurement with no excuses, ever. We delivery on time and within budget. Always.
After too many trips to count and solid relationships flourishing, it was time to take things to the next level. I needed to get a local business license and open up an office in Dubai. I’ve formed companies domestically in the US, so I really didn’t think this would be a big challenge. Boy, was I wrong. Eleven months later, countless phone calls, e-mails, stamps, signatures, banking matters, attestations and everything else imaginable, we had finally done it. I often tell people what takes 10 minutes in the US takes 10 days in the UAE when it comes to business formation and getting the related services set up. Finally, we were now a company with a business license in the UAE. I can’t take credit for this process alone though, it was the work of many people on my staff as well as great friends in the Middle East. This was truly a team effort which has led to the opening of Pierce Sales Company, Inc. (FTZ Branch) – derived from the name of the parent corporation of both Restaurant Equipment World and Critical Supply World.
So here I am, all these years later, sitting here on a relaxing weekend afternoon looking at the amazing skyline of downtown Dubai, getting ready for a busy week meeting with customers, vendors and business partners. I’ve become a resident of Dubai, although my full time home is still in the United States. Travel back and fourth from the states seems routine, even the 16+ hour Emirates Airlines plane ride each way seems “normal” to me at this point. The local culture and interactions with Emirati’s and ex-pats from other countries seems routine and comfortable to me as well. I’ve made great friends and people whom I trust and respect throughout the region. Business is done with honor and respect, it’s not unusual to do high dollar deals with a handshake and a promise. People’s word here means something and that’s a great way to do business and build relationships. Simply put, I love the city, I love the warm and friendly people, and I love how business is conducted with valued partners throughout the MENA (Middle East Northern African) region.
So, there you’ve got it. The story behind my Dubai adventures. A lot has changed from those early days, but Dubai still holds a magical place in my heart and has changed my life forever.
* Be sure to click on the picture at the top of this post for an artist’s rendition of the brilliant Dubai skyline. It’s truly amazing knowing that not too many years ago, this was all desert.