Exporting at the Speed of LightJanuary 23, 2012
Doug Barry is an International Trade Specialist in the Trade Information Center, part of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service
Two years ago he was laid off from his job at the height of the global financial crisis. Eighteen months ago he started his own company with one employee: himself. Today he has 9 employees and is shipping wireless routers he makes to customers in almost 80 countries.
How’d he do it?
William Haynes owns Sabai Technology based in Simpsonville, South Carolina. His success is due to a good product, timing, execution and some luck. He also had crucial help from his friends at FedEx and the U.S. Department of Commerce.
He started selling routers to customers in the U.S. Then he discovered a company that provided VPN service and who had customers overseas that wanted access to the Internet from devices throughout their household. The company, Strong VPN, asked Haynes to make routers for them. The first sale was to China, and orders soon took off to where international sales now account for 80 percent of revenues.
Haynes is not the only one making wireless routers, but he says he manages to compete with much larger technology-makers because of niche marketing ability and excellent customer service. “What you’ve got to do is make sure that front to back, from the time they place an order to the time customers get it in their hands and even after for technical support, that it’s seamless. That it’s well-communicated; that they have a certainty that when they’ve given you their money, they’re going to get their product; that they’re able to track it through the process. To me, that’s the most important thing for successful exporting.”
Shipping to the middle of nowhere
To generate satisfied customers Haynes turned to FedEx. “One of my favorite shipping stories is when we shipped to the Faroe Islands. FedEx handled it. It was there, I think, in three or four days. And if you’re not familiar with where the Faroe Islands are, it’s halfway between Iceland and Scotland out in the middle of nowhere.”
In another example, Haynes recalls: “We had a customer who ordered at 2:34 in the afternoon on a Monday afternoon to Sao Paulo, Brazil. Well, 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning – less than 48 hours later, they’re contacting us letting us know they’ve gotten the router, it’s installed, it’s up – ‘thank you so much, how wonderful this is.’ “
Business really took off early in 2011 due to an unusual chain of events. Haynes got a few orders from people in Egypt who understood the wireless routers could be used to send and receive information that was otherwise blocked by government filters. Said Haynes: “During the Arab Spring the technology allowed people to go to CNN and get news and information. It allowed them to send emails knowing that from the time it leaves their home to the time it hits the U.S. or the country they’re connected to, it’s totally encrypted.”
To build Haynes’s sales more rapidly, a FedEx sales representative brought in the U.S. Commercial Service, a branch of the Commerce Department that helps U.S. companies find overseas buyers and plays a major role in the Obama administration’s National Export Initiative, which seeks to double U.S. exports by the end of 2014. The typical U.S. manufacturing exporter sells to buyers in fewer than five overseas markets, so already Sabai Technology was atypical. But Haynes knew that in addition to selling and sending one box at a time, he needed to develop distributors in key countries so that his sales volume increased at a more rapid rate.
The Commercial Service has Export Assistance Centers in more than 100 U.S. cities and market specialists in U.S. embassies in over 70 countries. FedEx asked the Export Assistance Center in South Carolina to visit Haynes. “It would have been years before I discovered these folks. They came to visit me, to discuss the needs of Sabai Technology,” he said.
The visit prompted Haynes to use U.S. government export insurance and to advertise in a Commercial Service publication Commercial News USA, which goes to foreign buyers worldwide. “Thanks to the magazine we have companies in countries like Zambia wanting to buy and distribute our product.”
Looks like Zambia will soon be Sabai Technology’s 81st export market, leaving only 45 more countries remaining to sell to by this self-effacing, self-described “babe in the woods” of exporting. There’s little doubt that he has the determination and now the help to get there.
“I’m just a babe in this stuff, and to have someone hold my hand a bit and walk me through it – it’s going to really accelerate the growth of our international business.”