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Doing business internationally doesn’t have to be hard

By Mark Lesselroth

Date:

Welcome to the inaugural edition of “Thinking International,” a column dedicated to all things international as it relates to uncovering new business opportunities. The goal of this column is to provide a platform for companies who are interested in internationalism; sharing ideas, success stories, and lessons learned. Future stories will include experiences from firms like HealthWay, Air Innovations, and Bitzer Scroll to name a few. Readers are encouraged to submit questions they have about international business.

 

CenterState CEO promotes going global

In the spring of 2012, CenterState CEO launched the Metropolitan Export Initiative (MEI), which had the goal of doubling exports in the CenterState footprint over the next five years. If the region were successful in attaining this lofty goal, it had the potential of generating between 18,000 and 20,000 new jobs. This is based on a formula used by the U.S. Department of Commerce. 

 

The MEI resulted from a yearlong study conducted in 2011 in conjunction with the Brookings Institute to assess the local exports market. Some of the results from this study indicated that local businesses “lacked basic market knowledge and business acumen regarding the opportunities in selling a good or service overseas.” Forty percent of the companies surveyed by Brookings indicated that the reason they did not export was because they didn’t think that their product or service could be sold overseas. According to the report this was attributed in part to the “lack of knowledge” and “relative unease with cultural and language barriers within the target export markets.” 

 

International can be intimidating, but doesn’t have to be

For anyone involved in international business, these remarks shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s natural to be afraid or intimidated by fear of the unknown. One of the ways to address these concerns is to find a way to engage and introduce local companies to what the international market has to offer by looking at foreign companies who are interested in expanding into the U.S. market, and how local companies in our region might be a conduit in helping with this market entry. 

 

The idea here is that by working with a foreign company who is looking to gain a foothold in the U.S. that the American company will become more familiar and more comfortable with the thought of doing something themselves on an international basis. So for example, I recently met with the VP of sales for Giovanni Foods, Don Shaver, who let me know that if I came across a foreign sauce manufacturer who wanted to enter the U.S. that Giovanni would be more than happy to act as a local co-packer for that company, thus lowering the cost of doing business in the U.S. for that foreign entity.

 

Internationalism not just exporting

Other ideas that focus more on inbound than outbound international endeavors that could be beneficial for a local U.S.–based company could include: being a strategic OEM sales partner for that foreign entity; acting as a distributor for the foreign company; being an assembly partner for the foreign company; or even possibly being a joint-venture partner. All of these experiences can enlighten and educate the local business owner of the virtues associated with international business, and will no doubt lessen some of the fears and anxieties of exploring the international markets themselves.

 

Several years ago, I worked with a German building automation software company that was looking for entry into the United States. Since they didn’t have the resources to go about it on their own I helped them identify a strategic partner in the HVAC marketplace who could benefit from their software solution.

 

Exploring other markets

Another idea for a U.S.–based firm that hasn’t been involved in any kind of international business is to visit an international industry trade show to see what it is all about. If you have a passport, a little time, and some curiosity I would encourage anyone to visit an industry relevant show. For example, Jim D’Aloisio, partner at Klepper, Hahn & Hyatt visited the Bau Messe in Munich, the largest building and construction trade show in the world to see what the show had to offer and how his company might benefit from future participation and contacts gained by attending this show. 

 

Trade missions organized by foreign investment bodies like Invest in U.K. or the German American Chamber of Commerce (GACC) are also great, inexpensive ways to explore international opportunities. Five years ago, I participated in a trade mission to Berlin that involved 17 companies from around the U.S. The GACC set up the trip, which included lodging, presentations by officials from government, private sector and trade organizations, field trips to OEM’s and job sites to learn more about sustainable construction, and they concluded the trip with introductions to 30 German companies that were involved in the sustainable marketplace and were interested in meeting with U.S. companies with which they could possibly partner. Most of the U.S. companies participating in this trip had never engaged in any international business, but the format of this trip made it very easy for the Americans, most of which did not speak any German.

 

International resources

There are a number of local resources including the Central New York International Business Alliance (CNYIBA — www.cnyiba.net) Export New York, U.S. Commercial Service (http://www.trade.gov/cs/) and Empire State Development (http://esd.ny.gov) that offer free advice and assistance for doing international business. In addition, you have a number of professional service organizations that include banks, insurance companies, supply chain logistic providers, attorneys, accountants, marketing, and business development consultants that can also help hold your hand when doing business internationally.

 

Given the state of the local, regional, and national economy, there is no reason why a company shouldn’t explore what the international market has to offer if they have a product or service that may lend itself to this market.                        

 

Mark Lesselroth is founder and principal of Brenner Business Development, an international business development consultancy focused on helping small and mid-size businesses in the U.S. explore international opportunities as well as helping foreign owned companies gain market entry into the U.S. Contact him at mark@brennerbd.com.

 

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