This is a guest blog by Brice Barrett, Director of Sales for Western Shelter Systems and a client of the Commercial Service U.S. Export Assistance Center in Portland, Oregon.
Since 1988, Western Shelter Systems, based in Eugene, Oregon, has manufactured shelters that are easy to transport, simple to erect, and weather-secure for operations in remote locations. The shelters are used by fire, rescue, medical, military, and disaster response teams.
About 15 years ago, we exported our first shelter system to an Australian distributor to be used by wildfire firefighting teams. Our firm made other international sales through the years, mainly in response to inquiries from foreign buyers. The U.S. market for our products is seasonal and exporting became very important to us to achieve our long-term strategic growth objectives.
When I joined the company in 2013, my first priority was to identify the most appropriate export markets for our products in Latin America. I contacted the U.S. Commercial Service (CS) for assistance. I worked with Latin America specialists in Washington, D.C., and CS trade specialists in Portland to develop a data-driven methodology for selecting export markets. We analyzed key criteria across a number of markets and determined that Brazil, Chile, and Argentina represented the best prospects for us in Latin America.
CS Staff in Portland and Brazil organized more than 10 meetings for me with qualified distributors in three cities. As a result of the trip, we signed distributors in Brazil, Chile, and Argentina and have already realized significant sales in in all three countries.
We wouldn’t be where we are today in Latin America without the help of the CS and the U.S. Department of Commerce. The team helped us get to market 12 months faster than would have been possible if we were going it alone.
We recently decided to enter the Korean market, and I again called upon the CS to help arrange meetings with key players in this new market for us. There is no way we could have made these connections without the CS. We’re working on significant opportunities with our new Korean distributor, and we have product demonstrations scheduled throughout the next year. We’re progressing pretty quickly.
We now sell our products in more than 20 countries, and I admit that exporting can be a difficult and long process, particularly in a country where you don’t know the language or the market. Before you export, you need to do your homework and there are people out there to help you. I urge you to take advantage of the CS’ local expertise in foreign markets. The CS saves me from making a bunch of mistakes.