This article is part of an ongoing series, from a recent interview with MayaWorks co-founder Phyllis Nickel.
Initially, when Pat Krause and Phyllis and their stuffed bultos were the sole shipping route for MayaWorks goods (see the blog article from 6/25/12), customs procedures simply involved creative paperwork. In those days, Phyllis relates, the amount of goods and gifts that a traveller could bring back to the U.S. amounted to $500. “Well!” says Phyllis, “even at wholesale those 70-pound bultos were worth a lot more than $500!” So while she and Pat were stuffing and weighing the bultos, they would make up price lists, accounting for every item at a low-balled price that totaled just below the allotted amount. “That was quite a stretch!” remembers Phyllis. “But as I recall, we never had any problems with customs opening the bags or confronting us on their value… I guess they thought looking the other way was just fine.”
Things were different once MayaWorks expanded, and hand-carried bultos were no longer a viable shipping method. Although Pat arranged for shipments to the U.S., no one had told her about customs agents. As a result, customs procedures became an adventure in and of themselves. “A shipment would come in to JFK,” Phyllis recalls, “and [Pat would] have to go down there and retrieve it. It was in the bowels of this huge warehouse… I remember Pat describing going into this dim, gi-normous warehouse, hunting for the stuff, digging through the bags, trying to talk to the people to get it out of customs.” Pat, with no customs knowledge, had to learn about the myriad rules to be followed, had to puzzle out the proper procedures for how to check things through, and had to sort through piles of paperwork. “You could make a lot of mistakes,” explains Phyllis, “plus it was nigh unto impossible to do!” Help came through a mutual friend who had her own import business, and explained to Pat about customs agents who could take care of all of this for them. “Who knew?!” Phyllis exclaims. “Who knew, right? Because we’d been bringing it back by hand all those times. That was a hard lesson to learn!”
Written by Lynn Jencks
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