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.
Lightning Eliminators is a Boulder, Colorado company that does what its name says, according to chief executive Avrum Saunders. Saunders points to his many satisfied customers around the world who have purchased the hardware and related services to protect their oil drilling rigs, airports, schools, and many other kinds of infrastructure.
The company was highlighted in the Washington Post, in an article highlighting global success for American small businesses. As the article points out, many small businesses are getting export help from government agencies like the International Trade Administration, the Export-Import Bank, and the Small Business Administration.
In business since 1971, Lightning Eliminators recently expanded internationally in such diverse places ranging from Australia to Africa – and is thriving as a result. I was able to speak with Saunders about his company’s success when he was in Washington, DC to accept the Presidential “E” Award for export excellence.
Barry: Why do we need to eliminate lightning and how do you do it?
Saunders: We build very specialized and unique equipment to protect sensitive facilities from lightning strikes. If you have an oil facility, for example, a lightning strike can be catastrophic. Ours is a very different technology than the traditional lightning rod. We avoid lightning strikes, whereas lightning rods attract it.
Barry: Can you tell us a bit about how the technology works?
Saunders: Basically, lightning forms in the following way: Energy forms from the ground up and from the clouds down. And where the two meet, you’ll see the lightning strike or the lightning flash. Our equipment is designed to keep that upward-forming energy from reaching sufficient strength to attract the downward energy. It will seek some other location to connect.
Barry: What percentage of your sales is export?
Saunders: It’s 60-plus percent. I think this year it’ll probably reach about 62 to 63 percent. And we’ve grown that 200 percent over the last three and a half years.
Barry: How helpful is the U.S. government in helping your international business grow?
Saunders: Extraordinarily helpful. The people at the Export Assistance Center in Denver have been extraordinarily helpful to us. They have helped us open five or six new markets in the last two years. In fact my international sales manager is in Australia as we speak on a trip organized by the International Trade Administration, working with a local staff member in Australia to introduce our technology more fully and to help us find representation. That’s been the single most important thing that they’ve helped us do, is find good representation in a number of different countries – highly, highly recommend it to anybody who is looking to export. They’re good folk.
In fact, the services they provide, you could not obtain for 20, 30 times the cost it costs us to work with them. It’s one of the programs that most people don’t know about, unfortunately, but is a really, really good use of our tax dollars because for every dollar spent we’re returning a considerably higher sum to the economy in Colorado and the U.S.
Barry: Advice to the companies that aren’t exporting now?
Saunders: There are three areas that I think are crucial. One, you need quality representation in the local economies because you cannot, from the United States, fully comprehend what goes on day-to-day in a place like Nigeria. You just can’t do it. You need that local help. Secondly, you have to pay attention to the details – details such as financing instruments, like letters of credit and bank transfers, things of that sort. Third, and perhaps most important, is that you really have to understand the business culture.