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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Doing business on the ‘Bayou’ just got a little spicier

November 30, 2015

Brittany Banta is the Acting Director for the U.S. Commercial Service’s Export Assistance Center in New Orleans.

Louisiana’s companies have something new to be proud about.

Earlier this month, the Louisiana District Export Council was recognized as the District Export Council of the Year for 2015. The DEC won the award during the National DEC Forum in Washington, D.C., and I was honored to participate in this special ceremony.

DEC Award

Alta Baker (L), Chairwoman of the Louisiana District Export Council (DEC), and Brittany Banta (R), Acting Director for the New Orleans U.S. Export Assistance Center and the Louisiana DEC’s Executive Secretary accept the International Trade Administration’s 2015 DEC of the Year Award.

Considering there are 59 DECs across the United States, winning this award is a big deal. And Louisiana companies exporting right now, or thinking about exporting, should take notice.

Since the fall of 2014 members of the Louisiana DEC have been quite busy. In December of that year, the DEC took part in the New Orleans’s International Workboat Show, where connected U.S. businesses with the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency. In October of 2014, on the 100th Anniversary of the Panama Canal, the DEC led 50 business leaders from across several industries to the Central American nation. Leaders from industries to include the port, health care, higher education, seafood and economic development all attended, providing increased awareness between Panamanian importers and Louisiana businesses.

And several members of the Council played a major role in helping Copa Airlines secure the only direct flight service between New Orleans and Panama. Talk about impactful!

What does all this mean for Louisiana exporters? It means our dedicated District Export Council is ready to support small- and medium-sized businesses to help them successfully export anywhere around the world.

But it also means these volunteers have a wealth of knowledge about how to export the right way, and I hope companies will take advantage of their services.

Led by Alta Baker, the DEC’s chairwoman and CEO of Safe Haven Enterprises LLC in Jennings, the Louisiana DEC has worked tirelessly to educate and support small businesses across the state, encouraging them to take advantage of international opportunities.

And with more than 95 percent of consumers living outside of the United States, companies should certainly take advantage.

DECs work closely with local U.S. Commercial Service Export Assistance Centers — like ours in New Orleans — to educate and inform companies on exporting and international trade. If you’re interested in becoming one of the more than 3,700 companies exporting from Louisiana, email us  and visit our website for more information.

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Mission Global: Vets Go Global Initiative Assists and Empowers Veteran-Owned Businesses to Expand in International Markets

November 10, 2015

Guest blog post by Murat Muftari, International Trade Specialist, International Trade Administration’s U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service. Muftari also is a former U.S. Special Forces soldier.

This post contains external links. Please review our external linking policy.This post originally appeared on the Department of Commerce blog.

“History has shown that when you give veterans an opportunity to succeed, they go above and beyond. And we as a nation owe them those opportunities to succeed,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald when recently announcing the expansion of the Veterans Economic Opportunity Initiative – a collaborative initiative to increase economic opportunities for veterans.

Vets Go Global

Vets Go Global Initiative Connects Veterans to Global Markets

As we approach Veterans Day this Wednesday, November 11, let us take a moment to honor America’s veterans for their sacrifice and willingness to serve for the common good of a grateful nation. Their service continues well beyond the battlefield and into the commercial and private sector where transitioning veterans continue their mission and turn to entrepreneurship at greater rates than the rest of the U.S. population. In fact, more than 2.4 million U.S. businesses are owned by veterans, representing about nine percent of all American firms and employing an estimated 5.8 million workers, with $1.22 trillion in sales receipts. Our veterans are significant contributors to America’s global leadership in business and innovation, supporting jobs and furthering our national security.

Although veteran-owned firms (9.9 percent) are less likely to export than minority firms (17.5 percent) and women-owned firms (12.1 percent), veteran-owned firms that do export are often bigger and have more employees than other firms that export. Veteran-owned firms employ an average of 68 employees, compared to 42 employees for women-owned firms and 21 employees for minority-owned firms.

Since only 9.9 percent of veteran-owned firms export, the Department of Commerce sees this as a tremendous opportunity to assist and increase the amount of veteran-owned firms that export through the Vets Go Global initiative, translating to an increase in bottom-lines and jobs.

The Vets Go Global team is committed to assisting veteran-owned businesses through customized export programs and resources. Our team is working diligently to support veteran-owned businesses by:

  • Providing customized export counseling on the frontlines of veteran-owned business events.  This is happening next week at theNational Veteran Small Business Engagement (NVSBE)Conference in Pittsburgh, Pa., November 17-19, where the Vets Go Global team will be exhibiting and engaging with veterans through a seminar and one-on-one counseling opportunities.
  • Collaborating and working with theVeteran Institute for Procurement (VIP) to put together an international business curriculum for veteran-owned businesses. Veteran-owned businesses who graduate the three-day program will then have an opportunity to develop an export strategy and write an export plan for international markets through a veteran focused ExporTech, an export acceleration system for achieving profitable growth.
  • Our team is also working with veteran-focused business associations that will lead trade missions to markets in Latin America and Asia focusing on industry sectors that show the most significant trends for opportunity in these markets. The mission destinations and targeted industry sectors are based on ITA’sTop Markets Series, which is designed to help U.S. exporters identify their next export market by comparing opportunities across borders.

Our Vets Go Global team will continue to collaborate with private and public organizations that offer resources to veterans by presenting additional avenues of economic opportunity to veteran-owned businesses.

Our team calls on the veteran-owned business community to continue to rise to the occasion when opportunity knocks and go above and beyond by joining Mission Global and learning more about the existing export opportunities and resources. To get started, contact the Vets Go Global team at vets@trade.gov or contacting your nearest Export Assistance Center.

As Veterans Day approaches, I would like to personally thank the brave Americans who have served – as well as their families – and those who continue to serve our country as members of the Armed Forces.

Follow the Vets Go Global team on Twitter and join our Vets Go Global LinkedIn Group Page for news about upcoming initiatives!

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The U.S. Commercial Service helps Western Shelter Systems export, reduce time to market and avoid mistakes

November 4, 2015

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.

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Powerful Connections: Introducing U.S. Businesses to Unprecedented Opportunities in Japan’s Electricity Market

October 30, 2015

Lilian Lee is an intern with the International Trade Administration’s Renewable Energy team

The 2011 Tohoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami impact on Japan’s nuclear power sector revealed inherent challenges in Japan’s electricity market when metropolitan areas experienced rolling blackouts for the first time in half a century. These events spurred significant reforms in Japan’s electricity market, which until now has been dominated by the country’s 10 vertically integrated power companies. The reforms are opening new opportunities for U.S businesses to tap into the liberalization of a $67 billion Japanese retail market.

Earlier this month, the International Trade Administration (ITA) and the International Trade Center hosted members from the U.S. and Japanese public and private sectors in Washington, DC to discuss their perspectives on Japan’s changing electricity market and what the reforms mean for U.S. businesses.

Attendees heard about Japan’s roadmap for full liberalization of the retail electricity market and learned about resources available from both the U.S. and Japanese governments to assist them in engaging in this market.

Kaname Ogawa, Director of the Electricity Market Office in the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy in the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, Industry, and Investment (METI), outlined the reform process that began April 2015. The first part of the reforms established an organizational body to facilitate power interchange among Japan’s 10 regions that previously operated as independent units. Participants noted that U.S. businesses will encounter the most opportunities when the next two phases are deployed—in April 2016, the residential sector will open up to full retail competition; and by 2020, the transmission and distribution sector will be fully separated from the generation and retail sectors.

Daiki Nakajima, a Project Manager at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) shared information about some key resources available to U.S. businesses, including the Technology Partnering Program, interpretation services, free consultation, and office space. Skipping Stone, a U.S. energy consulting firm already operating in Japan, shared best practices and addressed myths about doing business in Japan.

As Maureen Smith, ITA’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Industry and Analysis, noted in her opening remarks, there are many ways for U.S. firms to partner with Japanese utilities, government, and businesses and lend their experiences and innovations in a deregulated electricity market. She commented on the opportune timing of this development, as the negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, of which Japan is a key member country, recently concluded in Atlanta, Georgia.

Peter Weigand, CEO and Founder of Skipping Stone, called Japan’s energy reforms an “unprecedented” market development opportunity. His comments were echoed by the Executive General Manager of International Business and Affairs at Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), Hirokazu Yamaguchi, who highlighted in his remarks the launching of the TEPCO Open Innovation program. This program is encouraging conservative energy product, service and technology companies from the United States to apply for partnerships with TEPCO to capitalize on this market opportunity and provide their advanced services and technology to consumers in Japan.

The Commerce Department is facilitating these partnerships and working on multiple fronts to connect U.S. businesses to opportunities in Japan. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker led a trade mission to Japan in 2014 that included U.S. energy companies looking to provide solutions to help Japan restructure its energy mix. Commerce has also increased cooperation to support the development of new and renewable sources of energy. For the past three years, the ITA has co-chaired the U.S.-Japan Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Policy Roundtable with Japan’s METI and the U.S. Department of Energy.

This month’s seminar discussion was well-aligned with the objectives of the Roundtable and trade mission. Japan’s energy reforms present significant opportunities for international business partners with interests in the country’s electricity market and smart grid development.  To learn more about opportunities in the Japanese electricity market for U.S. business, please see ITA’s 2015 Top Markets Reports on Smart Grid and Renewable Energy.

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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.