Archive for the ‘Success Stories’ Category

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U.S. Exporter Finds “Lofty” Niche in Light Lift Technology

January 14, 2016

Curt Cultice is a Senior Communications Specialist in ITA’s U.S. Commercial Service

John Falls always had an affinity for engineering. One day, after taking advice from his brother-in-law, Falls partnered with long-time friend Ron Williams to pursue a solution that would allow people to safely and easily clean chandelier fixtures and replace bulbs without using a ladder. The two began building motors and winches that, when attached to pulleys, created a system that could raise and lower a chandelier. Soon, they were marketing their product to lighting showrooms around Memphis and Nashville, thus beginning Aladdin Light Lift of Huntsville, Alabama.

Chanelier

No ladder needed here. Aladdin Light Lift technology allows for easy maintenance through the lowering and raising of chandeliers, as shown by company representative, Kelly Mullins. The Alabama-based firm sells its products globally and stands to benefit from the TPP.

Falls and Williams were onto something, and by late 1990, the year of the company’s founding, the firm was selling an average of 10-30 motors and winches a month. The company branched out to area lighting representatives and set up distribution channels in Tennessee, Arkansas and Georgia, before selling to independent lighting representatives nationwide. Now, more than 25 years later, the business has sold 300,000 units in the United States and overseas.

Zach Barry worked as a product technician with John Falls in the early days of the company prior to being promoted to international sales manager in 2009. As Barry explains, Aladdin Light Lift services two primary markets: residential and commercial. The firm’s pre-wired pulley system of high-quality winches and motors support up to 1,000 pounds, with the 200-pound capacity model being the most popular in the United States. Overseas, its biggest sellers have a heavy-duty capacity of between 700 and 1,000 pounds, satisfying a strong niche market that gives the company a competitive edge over competitors from China and South Korea.

Selling to Trans-Pacific Partnership Markets

In the United States, about 80 percent of Aladdin Light Lift’s sales are residential and 20 percent commercial. But it’s the opposite internationally. Barry initiates about half the business, and the rest comes from referrals and word-of-mouth promotion. In 1996, the company made its first foray into exporting by making sales to Canada, and continues to expand its overseas sales today.

Once enacted, the company stands to benefit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). By reducing or eliminating tariffs as well as non-tariff barriers, TPP will give U.S. businesses improved access to 11 Pacific Rim markets which collectively representing 40 percent of global GDP.

Presently, Aladdin Light Lift sells to distributors in 14 markets across the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Asia, including the TPP countries of Canada, Japan, Australia and Singapore. In fact, “The TPP countries account for nearly two-thirds of our overall export sales,” adds Barry. “We see the anticipated natural saturation and assimilation of more U.S. products and services into those markets as a real potential benefit.”

As Barry points out, that is exactly what resulted from the North American Free Trade Agreement, starting in the mid-1990s. The agreement increased overall demand for U.S. products and services and helped make Canada Aladdin Light Lift’s largest market. The company expects that increased demand for U.S. design, architecture, and construction firms doing business in TPP markets will in turn facilitate demand for Aladdin’s products.

While most TPP countries already have duty-free entry for Aladdin Light Lift’s products, implementation of the TPP agreement would immediately eliminate a five percent duty in New Zealand and Malaysia, opening doors for possible future sales. In addition, Brunei’s 20-percent tariff would be eliminated after seven years.

“Asia is a great market for us, and in places like Singapore and Japan, they are building upwards due to space restrictions,” says Barry. “That means lots of apartments and condos with low ceilings and few chandeliers. So, in these markets, we are focused on the solid commercial opportunities in hospitality, such as hotels and restaurants—and, most importantly, many of these TPP countries have the wealth to keep on building and buying.”

Aladdin Light Lift also does great business in Australia, where its customer base extends into the realm of the rich and famous, such as Angus Young, lead guitarist and songwriter of the Australian hard rock band AC/DC, whose home was outfitted with Aladdin Light Lift products. That “rocks.”

The “Go-To” U.S. Commercial Service

Barry credits much of the company’s international success to the U.S. Commercial Service (CS), describing it as part of his “export team.” Leveraging export counseling, market research, international partner searches, business matchmaking, and “general hand-holding,” Barry has connected with new global distributors through CS trade professionals in Alabama and Tennessee and at U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide.

“I was first introduced to the CS in Memphis,” he says. “Had I not been, I doubt our firm would be selling much beyond Canada right now, nor would I be working at this level with the company. When things are slow in the U.S. economy, we need to be selling overseas to keep up our sales, and vice versa.”

As for exporting, Barry says that if his company can do it, any company can. He notes the success of the firm’s niche product, and that, without exporting, the company would be minus as much as $400,000 since 2010, with fewer employees. But with exporting, its revenues have grown an average of $200,000 a year, with sales abroad accounting for eight percent of total revenue. The company has also grown from two to 15 employees since its founding. Today, John Falls serves as company president, and his wife Susan, as executive vice president. Ron Williams continued to offer encouragement and support after buying out of the firm years ago.

“Exporting keeps us competitive because it forces us to adjust to meet demands of the international marketplace,” says Barry. “We are always looking to take a page out of a competitor’s book.”

For Aladdin Light Lift, that means continuously improving its product line while monitoring trends in consumer behavior. As for lofty ceilings, will more international consumers “see the light” by hanging more chandeliers with Aladdin Light Lift technology? Barry is sure of it.

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A Century-Old Company’s Global Manufacturing Success: Story of a Harbor Tug

October 23, 2015

Melissa Blackledge is an International Trade Specialist at the International Trade Administration’s Export Assistance Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

We’ve all heard sad stories like this: an American manufacturing company that has been around for decades closes because it can’t compete in today’s complex, global marketplace. It’s an unfortunate reality experienced by many local communities. However, a recent announcement from Cleveland-based Great Lakes Towing Company suggests its fate will be more favorable.

Tugboat

Great Lakes Towing Company will deliver a tugboat like this in early 2016 to the Port of Quetzal in Guatemala, marking the 116 year-old company’s latest expansion into Central America. The sale was supported by U.S. & Foreign Commercial Service staff in Cleveland and at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala.

Recently, the 116-year-old company began construction on a tugboat destined for delivery in Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala, marking the company’s latest expansion into a Central American market. At the tugboat’s ceremonial “*keel laying”, local leaders gathered to celebrate Great Lakes’ ability to compete globally and highlighted the company’s role as a creator of highly paid manufacturing jobs in Northern Ohio.

*In ship-building, the keel laying marks the first stage of the joining together of a boat to officially mark its construction.

Once completed, this tugboat will have quite the story to tell. The deal between Great Lakes Towing Company and Regimen de Pensiones y Jubilaciones del Personal de la Empresa Portuaria took several years to complete and saw contributions from U.S. Commercial Service trade experts in the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, as well as within the United States.

Here are a few other tales this little tugboat could share:

  • Many manufacturing industries, competition in the ship-building business is fierce. Great Lakes Towing’s success in Guatemala is another sign that demonstrates that American workers and products are desirable – and that American companies can win in today’s worldwide, economic stage.
  • It can take a team for small- or medium-sized businesses to successfully export – Businesses with Made-in-America products or services have this team readily available within the U.S. Commercial Service. In the case of Great Lakes Towing, they worked with trade specialists at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala to better understand the market and ensure a transparent negotiations process.

    Ron Rasmus, President and Director of Great Lakes Towing’s parent company, summarized the support from the U.S. Commercial Service by saying, “Working through the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala gave us legitimacy. There was a language barrier, there was a cultural barrier, so the company could have not done this without their help.”

Signatures

Upon starting the tugboat’s construction, the buyers welded their signature to pieces that will be attached to the hull of the new boat.

The feel good story of the Great Lakes Towing company doesn’t have to end once they deliver the new tugboat. Companies who manufacture Made-in-America products can model their own success after Great Lakes’. The first step is to reach out to the team that’s ready to help American businesses compete in today’s global marketplace at the U.S. Commercial Service. With offices in U.S. Embassies around the globe, and 109 cities across the U.S., the U.S. Commercial Service can craft an export strategy tailored to your industry.

If your business is thinking about expanding into international markets, or if you’re looking to elevate your current export strategy to the next level, contact the U.S. Commercial Service trade experts in your state.

They are happy to help your team create its own exporting success story.

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Thirty Tigers Reaches a New Level by Exporting

July 15, 2015

This is a guest blog by David Macias, President of Thirty Tigers.

Thirty Tigers is an entertainment company, located in Nashville, Tennessee that offers management, marketing and distribution, and publishing services to independent artists.

Thirty Tigers was interested in marketing itself outside the United States and learned about the Market Development Cooperator Program (MDCP) of the International Trade Association (ITA) through the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM). With support of the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM) and a grant through the ITA from the MDCP, we exhibited at MIDEM 2013, the music industry’s leading trade show held annually in Cannes, France.

As a result of participating at MIDEM 2013, Thirty Tigers reported a sales agreement signed in France that led to sales of $80,000 in the first six months of the negotiated term. The benefits of participating at MIDEM continued for us in 2014, as we opened an office in the United Kingdom, leading to product sales in almost every European territory. Due to our increased global visibility, Thirty Tigers signed a distributor for Australia and New Zealand in October 2014 and ended the year with an approximate $700,000 in export sales. We anticipate international sales in excess of $1,000,000 in 2015.

This increase in export sales also resulted in an additional two jobs in the United States, with the potential to add more positions as sales continue to grow. Thirty Tigers plans on continuing to expand into Japan, South America and other territories, potentially through a company that we met with at MIDEM.

The assistance the International Trade Administration provided was hugely helpful to us. The business relationships that we built at MIDEM are not only going to allow us to sell music in those markets, but the promotional support that we can now arrange for our artists are going to allow them to tour in those countries, as well. Those acts will employ road staff and musicians that live, work and pay taxes here at home. The multiplier effect that has come from the help the ITA has provided continues to pay off, not just for Thirty Tigers and our acts, but for many related companies and free-lance workers.

This is a great example of how a little help and direction from the government can be helpful to business and workers alike. We and our artists are very appreciative.

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E Star Award Winner Volk Optical Saving Sight and Supporting Exports

July 7, 2015

This is a guest blog post by Pete Mastores, President, Volk Optical

ophthalmic lenses In May, the Department of Commerce hosted the 52nd  Annual President’s “E” Awards honoring U.S. companies for their contributions to increasing our nation’s exports. The awards are broken into two designations: “E” Award for Exports for first time winners and “E” Star Award for Exports for previous recipients who continue to demonstrate significant contributions to the expansion of U.S. exports.

Having received a first time “E” Award for Exports in 2011, Volk Optical was recognized this year with an “E” Star Award for Exports for the continued success of our exports program. One of only 4 product manufacturing exporters awarded this distinction, Volk has seen steady growth in export sales since its first “E” Award.

Our company manufactures ophthalmic lenses, portable diagnostic imaging products, and surgical ophthalmic viewing systems and lenses that are used to diagnose and treat conditions of the eye. Eye doctors globally use Volk’s products provide the best possible eye care, thus improving vision.

ophthalmic lensesIt’s gratifying to have our export strategy recognized with a second President’s “E” Award and Star distinction. Our focus, strategy, and personnel additions have allowed our export business to grow consistently for 8 years.  Volk takes the proven approach of focusing on a single region for a one year period, establishing distributors, attending regional tradeshows, and securing the necessary regulatory product registrations and approvals. We concentrate our efforts on entrenching our core product line of ophthalmic diagnostic, laser treatment, and surgical lenses, after which that region is expected to grow organically. After the initial year, Volk turns its eye to growing demand for our more technical and capital-intensive products such as eye imaging cameras and surgical systems. These products require more education and effort to sell, so training of our worldwide distributors was critical. They take time and effort to sell, so the commercial approach requires established, trained, savvy boots on the ground.

We applied this approach first in Europe, then South America, India, China and the Middle East. Volk’s commercial expansion was supported by our parent company, Halma plc, which set up office hubs in developing markets. Having a regional base of operations helped us establish our international sales force.

Additionally, Volk has been assisted along the way by the efforts of the International Trade Administration (ITA) and U.S. free trade agreements. Some of the benefits from a U.S. Free Trade agreement is in lowering our costs of procurement of raw materials, components, etc., as well as in expanded global sales opportunities, allowing us to provide affordable optical medical devices.

Free trade agreements have helped Volk a lot and will continue to do so. We still manage everything out of Mentor, Ohio– the design, the manufacturing, the sales and marketing. The free trade agreements have allowed us to save significant time and money in going to market in foreign countries. We’ve kept and created jobs here in the U.S., as well as internationally, by putting people in the field to support our export efforts.

Volk has also benefited from the services of the U.S. Commerce Department which has been instrumental in assisting us with Gold Key programs to identify distribution channels around the world.

Volk expects export growth to continue as more and more developing countries’ eye doctors are able to afford Volk’s high quality, high performance lenses  and electronic diagnostic imaging devices to provide the best eye care to their patients.

Winning the U.S. President’s E Award in 2011 certainly excited and challenged us to continue to grow our international export business for the past 4 years in order to win this prestigious E Star Award. We’re eager to see what the next several years hold for Volk Optical.

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Export Success Series: Export Sales to Mexico Opening Doors to Latin America

June 12, 2015

This post originally appeared on the Department of Commerce blog.

Decoration image of a globe with U.S. and Mexican flags designed as arrows pointing above and below each other

Export Success Series: Export Sales to Mexico Opening Doors to Latin America

As businesses work to expand their international export networks, they look to the Department of Commerce’s U.S. Commercial Service (CS) to move domestic and foreign economy relations forward. The U.S. Export Assistance Center (USEAC), a major part of Commerce’s CS, specifically provides key opportunities through counseling, special events and specific business matchmaking. This business matchmaking can broaden opportunities for further export sales with a multitude of countries. Escalade, Inc. of Evansville Indiana, now an international manufacturer and distributor of sporting goods brands, partnered with the USEAC in Indianapolis ten years ago to establish themselves in Latin America.

In 2005, Escalade’s National Account and International Sales Manager Marla Fredrich, with the help of USEAC, explored possibilities of opening export sales to Mexico. Soon after connections were made, initial sales to Mexico launched and have increased ever since. Today, Escalade exports their products not only to Mexico, but also to other Latin American countries such as Colombia, as well as CAFTA countries including El Salvador, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic. Fredrich explains, “there’s no doubt that learning the ins-and-out of selling to Mexico and working with the Commercial Service gave us more confidence in expanding our sales to other parts of Latin America.” By doing so, Fredrich states that Escalade is “now reaping the fruits of [their] hard work in making new sales to world markets, and Latin America has become a key focus of our international business strategy.” Escalade is just one recent example of how U.S. companies have made much progress in exporting to a wide variety of countries, especially those in Latin America.

Establishing a foothold in one reputable export country such as Mexico paves the way for businesses to grow and sustain export networks in similar countries. This global diversification creates opportunities for both U.S. firms as well as foreign countries to strengthen economies and become more internationally competitive. Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker attended the U.S.-Mexico CEO Dialogue at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Secretary Pritzker emphasized achievements of the High-Level Economic Dialogue (HLED), which include new air travel agreements, steps to improve border management. Strengthening people-to-people ties in the near future with these types of forums, Pritzker stated, will continue to play a key role in creating export success stories similar to that of Escalade, Inc.

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Export Success Series: Chilean Exports Save Thirty Plus Jobs

June 5, 2015

This post originally appeared on the Department of Commerce blog.

In recent years, American Emergency Vehicles (AEV), a custom ambulance production company based in North Carolina, has increased exports to several countries—namely, Chile. Addressing the growing demand for safe, custom-made emergency vehicles, Chile has become a vital partner with AEV.

With the help of the U.S. Commercial Service and ExportTech, all backed by U.S. and Chilean free trade negotiations under the U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement, AEV views “Chile as a critically important market for our long-term global sales strategy,” says Randy Barr, AEV’s Sales Manager. AEV’s advantageous relationship with Chile is not limited to production sales; it also translates to increases in prospective jobs.  “Overall, the business we gained from expanding into exporting allows us to keep the people we have,” Barr explains. Exporting has saved up to 30 jobs within AEV since 2012. AEV hopes to expand its production, which would result in an additional 30 new jobs created. For this rural-based firm, the U.S.-Chilean trade agreements allow for mutually beneficial sales and increased employment opportunities.

The United States economy requires the swift negotiations of these free trade agreements on a global scale to ensure a fair playing field for all firms and workers. Without the Chilean free trade agreement, for example, AEV would not be able to work so closely with Chile both in generating exports for products as well as jobs. Exports are extremely valuable in strengthening our economy; thus, improving export relations will help the U.S. stay globally competitive. Find out more about how free trade agreements assist in expanding the United States economy at http://www.trade.gov/FTA/.

Making trade and investment a bigger part of the DNA of U.S. businesses and increasing opportunities for American companies like AEV by opening new markets globally is a key pillar of the Department’s Open for Business Agenda. Later this month, Secretary Pritzker will travel to South America to help American companies learn about potential opportunities in the region and make important contacts with business and government leaders.

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Hard Wiring the World, One Country at a Time

December 8, 2014

This post contains external links. Please review our external linking policy.

Doug Barry is a Senior International Trade Specialist in the International Trade Administration’s Global Knowledge Center.

Electric wires running from a tower with the sky in the background

More than 80 percent of the world’s transmission wire is sold outside the United States, giving CTC Global a great opportunity to do business overseas.

CTC Global Corporation is a California-based company that makes transmission wires and sells them in 28 countries. CTC has 110 employees and 70 percent of its revenues come from international sales.

And the company continues to expand to new markets. While attending the Discover Global Markets Forum in Los Angeles earlier this year, CTC signed a deal with a new distributor in Portugal, with the help of the International Trade Administration’s Commercial Service.

Marv Sepe manages the company and recently shared details of the company’s international success with Doug Barry, a trade specialist with the International Trade Administration.

Barry: You’ve gone into all these markets in less than eight years. How did you do it?

Sepe: Only 15 percent of the world’s transmission wire is sold in the United States. Eighty-five percent is sold outside of the country. So if you are going to serve the larger part of the market, you need to be outside of the United States. Many of us that were there when the business started were not afraid to go offshore at all in order to sell what we source and make in the U.S.

Barry: What has been the biggest challenge for you in building this business?

Sepe: We deal in a very conservative market. When you go to a utility in any country or the United States and say, “We want to change the way you deliver power to something more efficient,” people are quite skeptical. Our biggest barrier really has been the proof–to tell the customers that this is a new way to do things. We give them a demonstration, and we wait.

Barry: How has the U.S. Commercial Service helped you?

Sepe: They’ve been very helpful. My first involvement with them was back in 2010. I participated in a trade mission to China with the Secretary of Commerce. It was the first renewable energy or efficient energy mission to China. We got a good sense of the capabilities of their team, and we’ve kept up ever since.

The Export Assistance Center in Irvine is quite close to us, and I know those guys very well. We deal with them all the time. Now we’re using the team in Europe to do partner searches for us in several different countries right now.

Barry: What would you recommend to other U.S. companies that are considering expanding their international sales?

Sepe: Go on a Department of Commerce trade mission. It’s phenomenal as far as raising brand recognition as a company that delivers high efficiency and clean energy. We probably couldn’t have gotten that any other way.

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