By Janice Kleinschmidt
Establishing yourself in a foreign market takes more than learning a few key phrases in another language.
“Each country has different ways of doing business and, in some cases, there are subtleties that you need to know to make that business grow and have that business be effective, so it’s not just about the product,” says Marco Alvarez, president and CEO of Fabric Images Inc. “I would find someone that I would trust and someone that I would have built a relationship with over a certain period of time. So it’s really more about the people than it is the market.”
Alvarez was part of a delegation led by the U.S. Commerce Department in November 2007 to China, a market his company has not entered—yet. “It gave me a chance to interact with Chinese businesses in the textile industry and gave me an opportunity to see what’s happening in China,” he says. “It’s a major, major market, so I went just to get to learn the culture and people a little better and see what the marketplace is doing over there.”
Ted Anderson, president of BondCote Corp., also went on the China trip, though his company has been doing business there for years. In addition to establishing new contacts, he came away with a better understanding of the market and insights into products being developed there. He plans to use that knowledge “to focus on reducing our costs of doing business and developing alternative sources for component materials that we use.”
Chris Nolan, managing director of Nolan Warehouses, which purchases products from China, says the trip cemented relationships with two suppliers he had met at Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI) shows. He gained “a feeling for what is happening in China, the people’s aspirations and their attitude toward the West.”
Joey Underwood, vice president of Safety Components Fabric Technologies, joined a trip to the Arabian Peninsula in December 2007, a cooperative venture led by the United States Industrial Fabrics Institute in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Commerce.
“Before we went, we had limited experience in selling to some of these markets,” he says. “If we would have done it before, I don’t think we would have used the commerce specialists within the local embassies. I don’t think we would have made the contacts on our own with American chambers of commerce. I can see the value in doing that now.”
“As in any opportunity, you need to invest the time and money to understand what the customer wants and then go about putting together a plan to accomplish that,” Anderson says. “And one of the first things you have to do is to make the commitment to spend the time and money to go and visit, because it’s very difficult to do business from half a world away without those relationships.