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Q&A: Combining Passion and Profits in the Global Marketplace

JoAnne Theodore lives in Florida, but in many ways, Greece has become her second home. Theodore travels to Greece frequently and spends her time there enjoying the food - including Greek yogurt, baklava and gyros - and the culture, while learning about ancient Greek history.   

In 1992, Theodore decided to combine her advertising and marketing background with her love of Greece by starting a mail-order spice business, Greek Island Spice Inc., in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. At first, Theodore sold homemade Greek spice blends. She now sells an assortment of all-natural, artisan marinades, pestos, chutneys, coulis and gourmet condiments.

Her company expanded internationally about 13 years ago to cater to untapped markets, and now Theodore, president of Greek Island Spice Inc., has six employees and customers from Canada to China to the Caribbean.

We did our first trade show in Canada, and they provided translators for us in Montreal. We now have nationwide distribution in Canada.

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Here, Theodore describes her journey to becoming an international distributor of spices.

Who was your first customer?

Theodore: Our first customer was a local high-end five star resort that has a very demanding clientele. We almost worked like an outsource commissary of specialty goods. That works very well for resorts because they may have a week or a month where they have an enormous party, and it doesn't make sense to keep a condiments specialist on staff. So they'd call us in and send us a large order for an important event.

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How did you find your foreign customers?

Theodore: Our business really first started in the Caribbean basin. We did a trade show in cooperation with Southern United States Trade Association, which has been a great resource for us. We did our first trade show in Canada, and they provided translators for us in Montreal. We now have nationwide distribution in Canada.

While at a trade show, we had a serendipitous event where we actually met a manufacturer in China that was enamored with our products. We have since shipped to China, and that opened up a new door to a customer that we're currently working with in Vietnam.

How do you process your payments?

Theodore: As far as the actual payment, it depends on the country. I have customers that I have granted credit, and they normally make a currency deposit into our account. I have requested that some customers do a wire transfer prior to shipping, for security. Transactions in the Caribbean do not always go well, so the standard operating procedure in the islands is to request funds in advance. As soon as the funds clear, we ship. We don't find that to be necessary in Canada. Any shipping outside the U.S., especially Asia, we require at least 50 percent in advance and then a guarantee going through the Export-Import Bank of the United States for the balance, so we know the other 50 percent is guaranteed and insured.

Has being a microbusiness helped you succeed?

Theodore: This is not something that a very large company can really do because the process of creating minimally processed artisan products requires a unique skill set and is labor intensive. It's a very old technique we have incorporated into modern processing standards. This allows us to serve a niche market in a highly processed food-manufacturing world.

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