Entrepreneur Carmen Morris Inspires

By Hugh R. Morley
The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)

New Jersey companies looking to break into the export business have nothing to fear but fear itself.

That’s the message of Carmen Morris, a Princeton entrepreneur and import-export specialist who believes that uncertainty is the biggest barrier to businesses trying to sell abroad.

Morris, 54, who is also president of the Princeton branch of SCORE, a non-profit organization through which seasoned executives volunteer to help rookie entrepreneurs, spoke in Bergen County last week on the topic of “Taking Your Products to International Markets.”

Originally from the Dominican Republic, Morris moved to New York with her family at age 7 and started her first business, making wedding dresses, at 19. She has run her own businesses ever since, including a real estate franchise and an import-export company that at present sells exfoliating oil to Dubai, Germany and Latin America and hair-straightening products to customers in Dubai and the Dominican Republic.

She spoke to The Record last week about how to break into the export business, the perils of inexperienced entrepreneurs doing business through Alibaba, the giant Chinese eBay-like online sales platform, and her work as a volunteer helping businesses overseas. (Interview edited and condensed.)

Q. How did your first business come about?

A: It was kind of coincidental, but I always knew I wanted to have my own business. At the age of 19, I had a girlfriend who got pregnant right out of high school. In those days, if you were pregnant, you had to get married. We only had $135 to go and buy a wedding dress. We purchased a plain wedding dress for $60, and then we went on Fashion Avenue (Seventh Avenue in New York) and we purchased $35 worth of pearls, laces and we sewed it onto the dress, and we created a wedding dress. Then, the unimaginable happened. At the wedding, a lady asked who made that beautiful dress. Right there, she ordered three dresses from me. After that I was doing two or three dresses. That was my first taste of money. Then I finished school, I worked for Ralph Lauren for six months, and I started my own private label. And that’s where I learned the trade of exports.

Q. What’s the biggest hurdle that business owners face when they think about exporting their goods?

A: They are afraid to find out for themselves. I always tell people: You go and you research the market yourself. If it’s a country in which you have limited information, you need to look for resources. The biggest hurdle that I find from people is the fear of not knowing what to expect, what to do.

Q. How do you overcome the fear?

A: It’s having someone to take you through it, especially if it’s your first time. Services and branches of the government are helpful. If you go to, all that information is there. … You go to U.S. Commercial Service and you tell them your plans, what products you have and what markets you would like to penetrate. They help you with the market analysis, to see if your product is a good match for that country. And they will also match you with buyers.

Q. You got a big client from Dubai through marketing your goods on Alibaba. How long have you been on Alibaba?

A: Ten years. I don’t recommend people who have no experience to go on Alibaba, because you can get scammed (by people trying to get goods without paying for them). But if you do, Alibaba offers pretty good services if you are planning to take your product to international markets. That’s one place you can expose your product. … And if they do [use Alibaba], they need to use escrow.

Q. How does that work?

A: They place the order for your product, and their money goes into escrow with Alibaba. They release the money to the supplier after the merchandise has been delivered, and confirmed by the buyer, which means there is a third party confirming the delivery. And then your money is safe. … What they [scammers] do is they try to take you out of |the platform of Alibaba and into a private email. Right away, that’s a sign that it’s a scam.

Q. You volunteer with Partners World Wide, a non-profit Christian organization. What is that?

A: The organization is dedicated to eradicating poverty around the world by building businesses. For the last five years, I used to go one week to a Third World country and spend it with the businesses, building the businesses. The last trip that I did was to the Amazon in Ecuador. I was teaching contract negotiation to farmers who were selling to the supermarkets. We are trying to build up the country’s economy by building the businesses.

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