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Ford said he once had a problem with an order at a Pakistani factory and was promptly surrounded by 25 people who tried to intimidate him. He told the factory owner to send the goon squad away, though, or the order would never get shipped, and he was eventually able to resolve the situation.
Avoiding such confrontations is just one of the reasons Ford and other sourcing executives stress the importance of developing relationships with factories.
"This is what the life of the sourcing person is all about, coming up with the best opportunity, the best price, the best factory in a country and making sure you get your deliveries," said Ford. "It's a very difficult thing to do because the stores are just making things very difficult with the prices they require. It's a juggling act, at best."
Pricing pressures from retail behemoth Wal-Mart and the consolidation of several regional department store names into Macy's have made competition to nail down the best sourcing all the stiffer. Trying to get that advantage can mean looking to other dangerous places.
In addition to Pakistan, the State Department has issued travel warnings for Americans to avoid Colombia, Israel, Haiti, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, all of which manufacture apparel that's exported to the U.S.
To manage not only the personal risks of being in a dangerous country, but also have a handle on the day-to-day political situation, producers have developed multilayered sourcing strategies that make use of suppliers and experts throughout the world.
"You have to have boots on the ground," said Rick Darling, president of sourcing giant Li & Fung USA.
Those people on the scene cannot only handle the day-in, day-out aspects of business to get orders right, but also keep tabs on what's going on in the society to be better prepared for changes.
"Our presence today in Pakistan is greater than it's every been," said Darling, noting it is perhaps the most sensitive spot in which to source and one that some of his clients choose not to use. "It really
becomes corporate or personal preference."
The 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington were a wake-up call on security.