Exporting anything from Pakistan to Europe and other continents may seem like a daunting task for a single person enterprise; for teacher-turned-exporter Ehtesham Qamar, it is his bread and butter.
Qamar, 26, started teaching at a private school after he graduated in 2006. Now, however, Qamar runs a successful small business, exporting surgical goods to the United States, Europe and Japan as his full time job.
With his new occupation, Qamar says that he has significantly changed his living standards within a year and has doubled his monthly income. Qamar, who used to earn around Rs20,000 a month from school and tuitions, now makes Rs50,000 to Rs75,000 – depending upon the volume of his exports in a month. “The good thing about this business is that you get quick returns on your investment,” he says.
Qamar belongs to a city that is renowned for its quality sporting goods and surgical items. He is a resident of Sialkot; home to thousands of small and medium size enterprises that manufacture high-quality surgical instruments. According to industry officials, 25,000 different types of surgical items are manufactured in this city alone.
Sensing a good business opportunity, Qamar, along with a friend, chose to export surgical goods. They registered a joint company and started exporting instruments that are in demand in Western countries. After a while, however, the two friends parted ways and Qamar decided to register his own company.
Qamar is now a modest trader; he takes export orders and forwards them to artisans who manufacture surgical goods. These artisans, like other small businesses that characterise commerce in Sialkot, work in cottage industries in residential and commercial areas all over the city. Most of Qamar’s international orders are from business to business (b2b) websites.
“Our business is all about exporting quality products and keeping large stocks of finished goods at hand.” Qamar said. “Importers give larger contracts to those companies that have abundant stocks, as it saves time and ensures timely delivery. Quality and quantity are both important in our business. Since I am a small exporter, I cannot invest in enough stock, which is one of the main reasons why I am growing slowly,” he added.
Responding to a question, he says that he will need at least Rs1.6 to Rs2 million to maintain respectable stocks that will ensure a healthy return on investment.
“Now that I am earning well, I am saving money to reinvest in business. This was something that I was not able to do when I was solely teaching,” he says.
Qamar claims that his average monthly exports range from Rs100,000 to Rs150,000. He is confident that these figures will get a big boost once he reaches out to some of the leading online shopping websites where individuals have the option to buy specific items, instead of buying in bulk.
“I have plans to exploit eBay.com soon. Once I get there, I will double my profits,” he says.
Qamar sends shipments through air courier services that take three days to one week in reaching their destinations. The rates of foreign courier services from Sialkot airport are much higher than their rates at Lahore airport, which is at a distance of about two hours from Sialkot city; so, to minimise costs, he first sends his consignments to Lahore through local couriers, from where DHL takes them to Germany, UK and other countries.
Speaking on the challenges that the surgical industry facing, he says that the rising exports of China and India prove very stiff competition.
While he waits for his startup to take off, he wants to continue teaching.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 19th, 2012.