If you want to conquer the exporting world, take it three countries at a time.
This is just one of the exporting tips businesses take away from the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s ExporTech program that helps small- to medium-sized manufacturing companies in southern and northeastern
Wisconsin introduce exporting into their business strategy.
For three full days once a month, executives from eight companies meet with ExporTech staff and other experienced exporting companies around the state to create an export expansion strategy with the greatest return on investment and lowest risk. Coaching and assistance hours are also provided between the three events.
WMEP Global Engagement Director Roxanne Baumann, who has more than 25 years of experience in delivering manufacturing business results, helped launch ExporTech.
“Up until 2010, there was no program that I was aware of in the state of Wisconsin or anywhere that would take somebody through an export strategy expansion plan process,” Baumann says. “An owner was left to kind of figure out the pieces on their own.”
Exporting is essential to businesses since 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside of the United States, Baumann says. Another fact businesses need to know: 54 percent of the world’s middle class population lives in Europe and the United States, but by 2050 that number is expected to drop to 20 percent, and 66 percent of the globe’s middle class will live in Southeast Asia.
Those facts should encourage businesses to begin looking to international markets now, Baumann says.
“It’s really important that U.S. and Wisconsin companies start understanding how to be global because, if I’m a CEO, I don’t want to bet my whole company on the 5 percent of customers that are back here in the United States,” she says. “If we have an economic downturn, that can wipe a company out.”
On average, businesses completing ExporTech reach $1 million in increased sales six to nine months after their last class session.
A leading manufacturer of vehicle mounts, Gamber-Johnson saw immediate results after completing ExporTech in 2012 as its revenue climbed from $400,000 to $15 million.
“About 34 percent of the docks and cradles today are being exported outside the United States and Canada,” says Chief Operating Officer Gautam Malik. “Originally, that number was 1 percent in 2011, so you can see a significant amount of volume going outside.”
Gamber-Johnson, which is based in Stevens Point, was also able to add 15 jobs to internal exporting, which created another 25 jobs for its suppliers.
“The value that came out of it was instrumental in starting our program,” Malik says. “We went from exporting to one to two countries in 2010 to 43 countries in 2017 after ExporTech. Every year, we’ve gotten closer to adding more and more countries.”
Job growth is an important piece of Baumann’s ExporTech strategy.
“I want to get them to year two with $150,000 in annual profits so the president or owner can then hire someone with that profit money and have somebody drive the strategy who understands it,” she says.
When it comes to exporting, Baumann says companies are often reactive and accidental or will not invest if they do not feel confident about their strategy.
“Everybody gets scared by the word exports, and initially it looks overwhelming, but one thing that came out of the program was exporting in the process,” he says. “I’m a mechanical engineer with a master’s in manufacturing engineering, and here I was trying to sell my products overseas, and I realized that selling is also a process. This program converts that overwhelming feeling into simple things that you need to do, and you realize exporting is possible if you follow the right process.”
Even for confident companies exporting on their own, there is always room for exploration. For example, Carmex Lip Balm in Franklin exported to 26 countries for years before joining the ExporTech program, where the team discovered it was missing three crucial countries. Using the research data, Carmex found its top 10 countries to invest in and its 16 countries it should only react to as orders come in.
“Now they can see where they’re able to make money and now they’re on fire,” Baumann says.
Baumann fears too many companies will push off exporting because the economy and domestic business appears to be booming, but with the drastic demographic changes coming in the next 30 years, exporting will be crucial to keeping their doors open.
“Get your team together; do it sooner than later,” Baumann says. “Do it now. Do it systematically and proactively. Stop being accidental. Avoid the risk and maximize the opportunities out there.”
Applications are now being accepted for the fall 2018 ExporTech Program. Classes will be held in Brookfield on Aug. 28, Sept. 25 and Oct. 30. Visit wmep.org for more information or to apply.