Posts Tagged ‘Gold Key’

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Transport Company Drives U.S. Service Exports

May 23, 2014

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

U.S. exports of services topped $682 billion in 2013, up $50 billion from 2012. As we explained in a recent blog post, service exports come from a number of industries, from medicine to law.

One other important contributor is transportation services, like those provided by Virginia-based MV Global Transport, which organizes bus and other kinds of transportation for some of the most exciting events you’ve seen around the world.

The company got into global business with help from the International Trade Administration’s (ITA) Commercial Service, and now relies on international sales for 100 percent of its revenue.

Brad Kurtz, the company’s president, recently shared his company’s story with Doug Barry of ITA’s Global Knowledge Center.

Barry: You have some pretty impressive clients.

Kurtz: We provide special event transportation for large events all around the world. We have been fortunate enough to support the Olympics – in Salt Lake, Vancouver, as well as in London.

Barry: How did you get into international business?

Kurtz: We got in through the U.S. Commercial Service. They assisted us with work in Doha (Qatar) for the Asian games in 2006 and then also down in South Africa for the World Cup with introductions through their office there.

Barry: How did they do the introduction?

Kurtz: We were invited to a number of networking functions. They brought in the South African Football Delegation into Washington, D.C., and we had the opportunity to meet with them. From there they helped us further along our negotiations and assisted us while we were in South Africa.

Barry: How important has exporting been to your bottom line?

Kurtz: It’s the only way we have survived. Being a service industry, it’s difficult. You have the emerging markets, you have new markets. How do you know where to find the business? With the expertise and industry knowledge of the U.S. government, it’s been instrumental in helping us.

Barry: What percentage of your revenues is international now?

Kurtz: Currently, it’s 100 percent. I would have to say that the U.S. Commercial Service has helped us with about 80-plus percent of that.

Barry: Any new projects coming up?

Kurtz: We just opened up an office in Brazil, as well as in Qatar. So we are working already on the World Cup coming up in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.

Barry: Any advice for U.S. companies that are thinking about exporting or expanding their international markets?

Kurtz: Enjoy the Gold Key program offered by the Department of Commerce. It’s very beneficial and definitely will help curb any concerns you may have in entering an international market.

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Gold Key Matchmaking Service helps Indiana firm to “Look South”

February 7, 2014

Conner Moore recently completed an internship in the International Trade Administration’s Office for Export Policy, Promotion, and Strategy.

Even though the Look South initiative is just getting started companies like Indiana-based Escalade Sports are already looking south by using Mexico as a stepping stone to other Latin American markets. Escalade is an internationally known manufacturer and distributor of sporting goods brands. Back in 2005, National Account and International Sales Manager Marla Fredrich targeted sales to Mexico as a springboard to Latin America.

After teaming up with Dusan Marinkovic, a trade specialist with the International Trade Administration’s U.S. Commercial Service (CS) in Indiana, Escalade benefitted from export counseling and the CS Gold Key Matchmaking Service.

This service helps U.S. companies find potential overseas business opportunities by arranging business meetings with pre-screened contacts, representatives, distributors, professional associations, government contacts, and/or licensing or joint venture partners.

Through the Gold Key, Fredrich traveled to Mexico and met with pre-screened prospective business partners arranged by CS trade professionals at the U.S. Embassy.

As a result of ongoing CS assistance, Escalade made its first sale to Mexico and continues to increase its sales to the country. Having established a foothold in Mexico, Escalade has since looked south and started exporting to other parts of Latin America, including Colombia and the U.S.-Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement countries of El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.

Fredrich is upbeat about the region, and sees a lot more opportunity.

“We are now reaping the fruits of our hard work in making new sales to world markets, and Latin America has become a key focus of our international business strategy,” she says. “There’s no doubt that learning the ins and outs of selling to Mexico and working with the Commercial Service gave us more confidence in expanding our sales to other parts of Latin America.”

Fredrich also said that Escalade’s involvement in exporting and international diversification has enabled it to weather the changes in the global economy, and to grow and become more internationally competitive. As a result, the company has been able to sustain and support many new jobs in the United States.

Whatever and wherever your business is, the International Trade Administration can help any company that is ready to start exporting, expand to new markets, and begin to “Look South.”

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Handy Men and Women Keep the World’s Machinery Humming

January 7, 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. 

ERD Limited is a North Carolina-based company that has seen its number of export markets more than quintuple in less than three years. In that time span, its revenues from global sales went from four percent of total revenue to 25 percent.

Tom Robinson of ERD Limited sat down with ITA’s Doug Barry to discuss how his company expanded to so many export markets with support from the International Trade Administration and other government partners.

Barry: Describe your company. How did it start?

Robinson: ERD Limited is an electronic repair facility. It is engineer-owned and operated. We have been in business for about 20 years in Kernersville, NC. We’re different from our competitors in that we do what we call high-level electronic repairs, of all types and varieties, on basic boards to sophisticated robotics. We deal in what’s called “legacy electronics.”

Barry: Is that a fancy way of saying that you fix used stuff?

Robinson: Yes. Most people don’t realize it, but 85 percent of what’s made or moved in the world today is done so by equipment that is almost 14 years old. Although this is a technology and whizz-bang kind of society, and we think everything is new, it’s really not that way. Those pieces of equipment are breaking down, the manufacturers may be long gone or bought up by another company, and what is needed to support those electronics is no longer available. That’s where we come in.

Barry: Where do you do business?

Robinson: About two and a half years ago we were doing business in 10 countries, and because of our connection with the U.S. Commercial Service [part of ITA], the State of North Carolina Department of Commerce, and the Small Business Technical Development Center, we have gone from 10 countries to 65. Revenue from international business is about 25 percent for 2013, which is up from four percent just a few years ago.

Barry: How did you expand to so many markets in such a short time, especially since the majority of U.S. exporters sell to only one market?

Robinson: One of the things about our company that’s very unusual is we did this expansion and growth without having any salespeople in country. We developed a Web presence that is probably second to none right now, using YouTube and all the latest social networking. When there is a problem and someone needs equipment repaired, we pop up very high in search engines.

Second, the U.S. Commercial Service has been very instrumental in identifying places that we need to look at, and we have used their Gold Key Service. We just recently came back from China, and that was partially done through a Gold Key, in which we met two of the major manufacturers of cell phones in China and the world. And we had very successful one-on-one meetings with them, to the point where a relationship is forming.

Barry: What’s your advice for small companies that are interested in exporting in a more strategic way?

Robinson: My advice would be to take a look at yourself. Make sure that you’re ready to do these things and that you have an understanding of who you are, what your marketplace is, and the cultures that you will be dealing with, because they are different. If you walk into it blindly you may be thinking you’re winning when you’re actually losing, and actually winning when you think you’re losing. It’s a challenge, but it’s worth doing.

Barry: Are you a better company as a result of your international experience?

Robinson: Oh, we are more refined and defined than we ever were prior to starting the process. We have weekly meetings on what we can do better, how we can do it, and the igniter was the international marketplace and what it offered and the fact that there is so much business out there outside of the United States.

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Attila’s Guide to Conquering Export Markets

August 29, 2013

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

Attila Szucs started Advanced Superabrasives in Nashville, North Carolina, with one employee in the early 1990’s. In the years that followed he grew the domestic market for his products, then expanded internationally during the U.S. economic downturn.

Szucs’s company has used International Trade Administration services like the Gold Key matching service to develop international markets around the world. His company was recognized by the Commerce Department with an “E” Award for exporting. He shared his story with Doug Barry, an international trade specialist with the International Trade Administration’s Global Knowledge Center.

Barry: Tell us about your company.

Szucs: The company was founded in 1993 in Nashville, North Carolina. And basically we started with myself and another person, and today we’re exporting to 16 countries.

We manufacture super-abrasive grinding wheels for other manufacturers. Super-abrasive grinding wheels are a product that actually grinds hard materials such as ceramic, glass, quartz, steel–all materials that need to be manufactured to very high tolerances. And the best way to do that is through grinding.

Barry: How did you get the entrepreneur bug?

Szucs: It was from my father. He had his own business. He started his own business in the United States not too long after we arrived here. And he is the entrepreneur in the family, and that’s where I got it from.

Barry: What was the biggest challenge that you faced in the development of your company?

Szucs: We started with absolutely no sales in 1993, and we did a lot of research and development and testing to improve our product. And slowly but surely we started penetrating the market within the United States.

We started exporting in 1995 to Canada. And after about 2002, when the economy took a hit in United States, we started to look how we could diversify so we can insulate ourselves from economic downturn. That’s when we decided that we really needed to look at exports, and we started exporting to China and to Brazil.

Barry: How did you manage?

Szucs: We were lucky. We actually started talking to the U.S. Department of Commerce, from Charlotte, NC, and it was just absolutely wonderful how we were treated and how much help they were. Through their Gold Key program, that’s how we got into Brazil. And that program is so helpful that they set everything up for you and basically all we had to do is show up. They even helped us with an interpreter and they set up all the appointments for us. It was a wonderful experience.

So from that point on we really tried to work very, very closely with the U.S. Department of Commerce. And in North Carolina we also had the North Carolina Department of Commerce, who was also very helpful in helping us navigate through the exporting issues that may have come up.

Barry: But how did you know to contact these people to begin with? You’ve mentioned just showing up. That’s something that a lot of U.S. companies fail to do.

Szucs: Most small U.S. companies don’t know about that tremendous asset that we have, whether it’s from the federal level or the state level. We actually heard from another company who used the U.S. Department of Commerce which helped them export. And that’s why we contacted them and wanted to see how we could pursue the same route.

Barry: Have you learned things in your dealings with other countries – China, Brazil, elsewhere – that have made you a better company?

Szucs: We just came back from Seoul, Korea. We participated in Trade Winds Asia, a U.S. Commerce organized trade mission. And again, I can’t say enough about it because it is a tremendous amount of help to any U.S. company, especially small companies like ours, because we get to meet companies from the region – potential customers, potential distributors. Plus, we learn about the culture of each country in the region and what they’re looking for so we can better prepare ourselves when we start dealing with these companies. It was invaluable for us.

Barry: Have you modified your product at all, or modified your approach to doing business as a result of what you’ve learned by selling to people in other cultures?

Szucs: We absolutely had to, because different cultures have different needs and we really have to cater to their needs. We can’t use the same approach in Europe that we’re using in Asia.

The United States does have a good following. People around the world, especially in Asia, they look up to United States and to United States products. So if you’re sincere and you have a good product, you have a very good chance of selling overseas, especially in Asia.

Barry: Are you confident that after you recent trip to Asia that you’ll add to your current collection of country markets?

Szucs: Yes, I’m looking forward to adding Korea and Japan. Japan is the crown jewel for me.

Barry: Will the free-trade trade agreement with Korea help?

Szucs: I think it will. Anytime we have a free trade agreement, it definitely helps. And it removes some of the obstacles.

Barry: What’s your advice to U.S. companies that aren’t exporting now?

Szucs: You don’t have to be a large company to export. That’s number one. And we’re a prime example. We’re not a large company. Second, take one country at a time. And most important, get help. And I would highly recommend using the U.S. Department of Commerce and your own local state department of commerce, because it will help navigate those troubled waters of export. Depending on which country you’re trying to get into, it could be a tremendous help to have people help you with the exports.

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No Stalling on the Ride to Export Markets

July 29, 2013

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

A dirt biker rides a bike up a mountain.

Two of the first autoclutches made by Rekluse were exported to Europe.

Rekluse makes clutches for off-road dirt bikes in a small factory in Boise, Idaho. The company’s founder, who begged his parents for a dirt bike and got one at age eight, got the idea for the business when searching, unsuccessfully, for a clutch to prevent engine stalls with his bike.

Now, Rekluse is selling clutches to dirt bike enthusiasts all over the world.

The company has worked with the International Trade Administration and other government agencies to develop an impressive international business presence, earning a presidential E-Award for Export Excellence in 2013.

On hand in Washington to accept the award was export manager Alison Kelsey, who talked with the Global Knowledge Center’s Doug Barry.

Barry: What does your company make?

Kelsey: Our company invented and manufactures auto clutches for dirt bikes. We’re in the off-road segment now and looking to go into the street market later this year. The product is called an auto-clutch. At a basic level, it prevents your motorcycle from stalling. And so it’s an aftermarket, bolt-on product that has advantages for beginners all the way up to professionals.

Barry: How did the company come into being?

Kelsey: The founder, Al Youngwerth, had tried a product that was kind of like ours, and it didn’t work well. It ended up damaging his motorcycle. He had a difficult time with their customer service. He’s an engineer, so his mind just started to work and he created the first auto-clutch 11 years ago. He just started from scratch and learned how to machine the product.

A dirk biker is executing a jump on a dirt course.

Exports are now about 30 percent of Rekluse’s business. The company exports to 41 countries.

Barry: How has the company grown?

Kelsey: Early on, two of the first clutches that were ever made went to customers in Europe. We started exporting very early on and took requests.

But three years ago, when I came into the company, we said: “We have a real opportunity here to grow this and to put best practices in place, bring in the infrastructure and really grow.”

We’ve seen tremendous growth in the last couple of years. Exports are now about 30 percent of our business. We have 18 distributors and through them, we export to 41 countries.

Overall, exports have enabled the company to grow more quickly. We have a very seasonal business and selling to markets all over the world helps us even out that seasonality and we can keep the balance up throughout the year.

Barry: What was the most important thing that helped the company grow systematically?

Kelsey: I think for us it as the commitment of the company to export, to know what it was going to take and all be on the same page and ready to invest in that, and then for all of us to have an understanding of the opportunity. When we have in-house R&D and production, everyone needs to be on the same page. So that was the most important first step: getting everyone on board from product design all the way up–we’re planning for exporting.

Barry: Was there a big challenge that you have encountered, or the founder encountered, in making the company successful?

Kelsey: I think the biggest challenge we’ve had is probably just limited resources. We’re a small company. We have specific challenges in each market that we work to overcome, but I’ve really found that since we’ve connected to the U.S. Commercial Service, we know where to get the answer to whatever situation has come up.

Barry: How specifically has the Commercial Service out there in Boise helped you?

Kelsey: Well, we’re really fortunate with our local Export Assistance Center office and Amy Benson specifically – I’d like to mention her. She has done everything from mentor the leadership team in our company, to prepare us for the commitment of exporting.

We’ve taken advantage of Gold Key Service, which finds buyers for us. I was in Brazil earlier this year, and to have everything set up – you just arrive and the Commercial Service people at the embassy have got it dialed up. We had fantastic meetings. Really great opportunities came out of that.

We also used the International Partner Search in Europe last year, which provided us a list of qualified buyers. So those are the services we’ve used, but Amy also just connected us to all the other export resources in our community. I think we know everyone now: the SBA, the Idaho District Export Council, many others. It’s our local network, and it’s great.

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A Gold Key Unlocks Global Growth for Cleveland Company

June 22, 2012

Doug Barry is a Senior International Trade Specialist in the Trade Information Center, U.S. Commercial Service within the International Trade Administration.

A record number of companies were recognized for their accomplishments in exporting at a White House ceremony this past May. Cleveland-based Jet Incorporated was represented by its chief executive officer Ron Swinko, who received the Presidential “E” Award. Swinko spoke with Doug Barry of the Trade Information Center, U.S. Commercial Service.

Barry: Can you tell us how the company started and what it does?

Swinko: The company was founded in 1955. The basic equipment the company designed at that time was to replace septic tanks with advanced technology, to treat the water using a smaller system and to allow the water to be discharged. Over the years, we expanded into commercial systems which are typically called small package plants for decentralized locations like small villages, hotels, resorts. That is the basis for our international growth as well.

Jet’s International Sales Manager, Gary Waite, trains the distributor and local operators on a new wastewater treatment plant in Kenya. (Photo Jet, Inc.)

Barry: For the non-scientists, can you give us a quick overview of how things work?

Swinko: It’s biological wastewater treatment. So anything that comes from either the sinks or the sanitary systems in a home or in a building that water enters into the system, into a tank where the solids are digested by aerobic bacteria. And part of our system is designed to inject air that promotes the growth of that aerobic bacteria.

Barry: Tell us about the international part of your business. How did that start and what was the biggest challenge in getting going?

Swinko: It started with inquiries because of the technology that was developed. The founder, David MacLaren, was certainly an innovator. And he was also very interested in expanding the technology internationally. He obtained a series of patents in several countries over the years. The most significant challenge was servicing our international distributors. And by servicing that means having enough inventory to meet their demands for immediate shipment, understanding what the export requirements are and ultimately providing solid responsive technical support for systems that have been installed globally.

Barry: You do a lot of work in developing countries. Has that been a challenge?

Swinko: Educating customers is a big challenge. Developing countries may be focused on environmental sustainability, even to a greater extent than we are here in the U.S., because of the scarcity of water. But they may not necessarily understand the benefit of regulation or the type of equipment that’s available. Over the last couple of years, one of our initiatives has been to educate regulators in, for example, the Cayman Islands and in Kenya. We hosted a seminar on wastewater management for the architects association of Kenya into at least provide some education about  how wastewater treatment systems can generate water for reuse and how that can be incorporated into sustainable projects for apartment buildings and resorts.

Barry: Who did you turn to in order to find a solution to that challenge?

Swinko: We’ve used the U.S. Commercial Service quite extensively. They have a wonderful service called the Gold Key, and because our business relies on increasing the number of distributors, we look for partners in developing countries who will act as distributors and who are technically capable either because they’re currently in the water purification business or because they’re in the construction business. We’ve used this service to expand into Southeast Asia and into South America. I just recently returned from a trade mission to Brazil that included four Gold Key meetings with potential distributors in Sao Paolo.

Barry: When you say Gold Key, do you provide the gold and they provide the key?

Swinko: It’s more mutual than that. But truthfully, the U.S. Commercial Service spends a great deal of time learning about our business, learning about and understanding our company and the requirements for distributors in the location, and then they evaluate potential distributor partners and partner companies in that area. They establish the Gold Key meetings after they’ve reviewed the capabilities and what our requirements are. Finally they look for a match, a good match I would say maybe in terms of company personality as well as technical expertise.

Barry: Let’s talk about the matches in Brazil. It would have been hard for you to fly in unannounced to Rio and Sao Paolo and open a phonebook. So they had a solution for that. But how did it work out on the ground?  Are you confident that good things will come of those meetings?

Swinko: Very confident. Part of the service includes an interpreter. So if there are any language barriers, particularly with technical terms or equipment, the interpreters are very capable. But for the most part they also look for companies that have good language skills in terms of an understanding of English. We’re quite confident that this was an excellent trip for us. And we’ve had more detailed discussions with two of the companies and we’ve already had three quotes for systems requested.

Barry: This was a U.S. Commerce Department trade mission?

Swinko: Yes. The trade mission itself was a combined effort by the Commerce Department with the Brazil- U.S. Business Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It was particularly impressive in terms of the level of government officials that we met with and the management level of the potential customers or clients that we met. We received very detailed technical presentations on their environmental sustainability programs – and certainly from our perspective the mission was well worth the participation and the trip.

Barry: Give us a snapshot of the company and its international growth.

Swinko: We have about 30 employees. All of our manufacturing is done in our Cleveland, Ohio, location. The business in the U.S. is highly dependent on residential construction. So during the last several years, of course, the housing industry has struggled which would be putting it mildly. In fact, it’s been significantly challenged, and while we have done reasonably well domestically, internationally the expansion has allowed us to actually increase the number of employees and add an additional engineer so that we could continue to support the international business.

Barry: What percentage of total revenues is international?

Swinko: International is about 25 percent with some nice year-over-year growth in the 30-plus percent range.

Barry: Where do you see it going in the future?

Swinko: I would say certainly maintaining those particular increases especially because of the markets where we have a significant presence, like Africa, and as well as South American and Latin American countries.

Barry: Are China and India on the horizon?

Swinko: China, no – partly because of intellectual property concerns but also because we have such strong presence in these other developing countries where we haven’t fully leveraged the market.

Barry: Explain the decision to do the manufacturing in the United States?

Swinko: The foundation of the company was in Cleveland. So there is a strong commitment to manufacturing and assembling as much as we can in the U.S. Quite honestly, there are some very distinct challenges with that because certain manufacturing processes and products are not available in the U.S. or if they are, they’re available at a high price compared to what you can purchase overseas. We do also try to work in Mexico to keep the supply chain as short as we can.

Barry: Is there a value in “Made in America” with your international customers?

Swinko: Without a doubt, especially in the environmental technologies equipment market. They greatly respect the regulation that we’ve had over the years that’s improved our air and water. And made in America or imported from America in many of these countries has a very strong, positive connotation to the equipment.

Barry: Can it make up for the premium pricing that is required?

Swinko: In many cases it can. In particular they do also evaluate whether and how many of your components may have been made outside of the U.S.

Barry: Would you say that you are a better company as the result of your international experience?

Swinko: I would say we’re certainly a better company, and we’re a better company because each of those countries, while they can use the basic equipment, do require some modification, and do require particular levels of service. So it’s really driven some of our innovation of the equipment systems.

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Connecticut Trade Mission Finds Success in Israel

April 8, 2010

Jim Cramer is the Deputy Senior Commercial Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.  He and his colleagues promote U.S. exports to the Israeli and Palestinian economies, with particular emphasis on small and medium sized American companies.

First full day of the Trade Mission already generates returns

What a day.  We kept Congressman Joe Courtney and the entire delegation running at full speed.  At 8 a.m. sharp, Joe and a handful of Connecticut defense companies went to the Israeli Ministry of Defense for a meeting to promote their products.  Connecticut’s high tech defense sector is a perfect match for Israel’s security needs.

While Joe and the group were busy at the Ministry, our other delegates started their jam-packed Gold Key schedules.  Getting these schedules organized was a lot of work, but we had great help.  Anne Evans, Melissa Grosso and the entire team from the Middletown U.S. Export Assistance Center were fantastic.  The Commercial Service Israel understands how to do business in Israel, and Anne and Melissa know the needs and challenges facing Connecticut’s exporters.  Working together we really arranged some amazing schedules that targeted in on specific client needs.  Great job Anne & Melissa!

Congressman Courtney kept running all day.  Following his morning meeting he was interviewed for a Connecticut radio show and had lunch with 2 of Israel’s top entrepreneurs.  While Connecticut and Israel may both lack natural resources, each makes up for it through smarts and entrepreneurial spirit, so today’s lunch was a perfect fit.  Joe rejoined many of the delegates after lunch for a briefing on opportunities in Israel’s security and medical sectors put on by our partner, the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute.

All of these activities were great, but what we are really about is returns.  And today we heard that one of the delegates may have made a multi-container sale to an Israeli distributor.  Some final negotiations are going on tomorrow, and I don’t want to jinx it, but I feel great about accomplishing something like this in such a short period.

I followed up with a lot of the delegates during tonight’s fantastic networking event at the Ambassador’s residence.  One delegate whose schedule was managed by our senior specialist Irit van der Veur couldn’t believe how perfectly tailored his meetings were.  Another thanked me over and over again for the help CS Israel had provided, and a third company couldn’t stop complementing the work Christina Azar in our office did for them.  What a team!

Everyone seemed exhausted and exhilarated from what they were able to accomplish during this first day of meetings.  I can’t wait to see them at dinner tonight to hear about the success they’ll find today!

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