Reece Guth stepped off the bus at a sleepy town two miles from Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast. He was armed with two things—a vague business idea and a money belt filled with $50 notes shoved down his pants.
That idea, along with his fist-full of start-up capital and a truck-load of determination, has today developed into a nationwide business that’s profitable, manageable and fun.
Something as simple as “wanting a tan in winter” was how Reece came to found Mayta Clay, a Maryland company importing ceramics from Nicaragua. This guy knows his pots—he started his working life as a potter. As he puts it “I lived, breathed, and dreamed pottery.”
Throughout the 80s and early 90s, Reece sold his work at Baltimore art shows and galleries, eventually opening a pottery store. In 1992 a friend convinced him to use his experience to help the city’s youth, and he became director of an experimental art and education program.
This led to a company hiring him to photograph a project on Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast. “I wanted a tan in winter; it was a perfect situation,” says Reece. “Only I didn’t expect to fall in love with the country, its people, and its pottery! When my liaison found I had an interest in ceramics, she insisted on driving me two hours to a quiet little village, nestled in the hills between two sleeping volcanoes.”
The art of pottery goes back many thousands of years in the “New World.” Artisans demonstrate an astonishing range of creative skills, as Reece discovered in the village of San Juan de Oriente. He found potters using designs and techniques that reach way back through the centuries. They painstakingly make one delicate piece at a time, drying it in the tropical sun.
“The cobblestone streets and dirt paths lined with pastel-colored adobe houses made walking around the town feel like stepping through an unseen door into the past. Like a treasure hunter, I somehow felt that a determined look beyond the surface of this dusty pueblo would yield some hidden gems. I was not disappointed, the pottery and talent I found was truly overwhelming.”
Reece decided it would be great to work with these talented artists and took the first steps to bring their pottery back to America. I’ll let Reece take up the story:
“I returned home from that trip with four pots in my suitcase. When I got back to the airport I had to shovel my car out of three feet of snow. There was a huge storm and people were stranded all over the East Coast. Back in Nicaragua, it was 85 degrees. That was a real motivating factor.
“I put the four pots on my mantel and looked at them for the rest of the winter and everybody who came to my house noticed and liked them. That spring I went back to Nicaragua with the vague idea of buying some samples and having them shipped home. I also had a wad of $50s tucked into one of those money belts you shove down your pants. In hindsight, it’s not a business strategy I would recommend.
“To cut a long story short, I found a shipper and I got about 40 pieces sent to the airport back home. I muddled my way through customs and then showed the pots around some local stores– they loved them. I didn’t really have many of the particulars worked out at that time but I knew from the reactions the pots were getting that I was onto a good thing.
“Since then I’ve brought in air shipments of containers, I’ve sold them retail and wholesale, on the Internet, at trade shows and at street festivals. I’ve sold to large museums and little shops on both coasts. I’ve sent pots to just about every state in the U.S.
“I haven’t sold them by the ton, or millions of dollars’ worth, but definitely more than a few suitcases. It’s been enough to establish a real business that suits my needs and matches my personality.
“I’m not really looking to hit the lottery–I mean finding that thing for a dollar and selling 10 million of them for two dollars. If you find it, move on it. Be ready and available if some fantastic opportunity should present itself.
“My focus, however, is more on the types of handmade products or limited production items that you may come across in a non-industrial setting; somewhere you might go to get away from the States.
“The producers I work with are generally small, family run businesses and they are very accessible. They want to sell their work. I think that anyone who travels could find themselves in a similar situation—one that turns out to be the starting point of an excellent opportunity.
“I’m here to tell you that it can be done. It’s not super-easy, but it’s not impossibly difficult either. What it does take is a substantial time commitment. That said, you can make your business suit your goals. You want your business to pay for your travels? You can do that. You want to make six figures? You can do that too.
“I didn’t want to look back later with regret so with little more than a few hundred bucks and some determination I decided to give it a try. Now I have a nationwide business. It’s a small business, for sure, but it’s profitable, manageable and fun. Of course, no business is all fun, but what I can honestly tell you is that if I can do it, you can do it too.”
Editor’s note: If you’d like to learn more about ways you can pay for your life or travels overseas, sign up for Fund Your Life Overseas, a free e-letter from International Living. Sign up here and we’ll send you a free report: Fund Your New Life Overseas With These 4 Portable Careers. This free report has a section on import-export, so you can learn more about starting a business like Reece has overseas.