Selling outside the US is a realistic option for domestic companies. Dennis Zink interviews Chuck Steilen, who has been exporting products for nearly 40 years, and has an extraordinary amount of experience with Hong Kong and China.
Chuck can be reached at 941-556-9113, or at [email protected]
Published: Monday, January 26, 2015.
ONLY 1.5 PERCENT OF United States companies have ever exported. Of those that have, 58 percent have exported only to one foreign market, either Canada or Mexico.
The percentage of the United States’ gross domestic product that is directly related to exportation is 10 percent, while the percentage in Canada, the U.K., Germany and China is significantly higher.
I spoke with Charles “Chuck” Steilen, a local resident who spent 28 years in Hong Kong and China as a marketing educator at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
He worked as a marketing consultant, a management trainer of executives throughout Asia and as a writer for the Hong Kong South China Morning Post. He also was a consultant to the Hong Kong government’s Trade Development Organization.
Steilen helps U.S.-based companies understand international marketing and has developed an integrated strategy for assisting and advising first-time exporters.
Here is what he had to say about starting up exports.
Q: What can a company do to research the feasibility of becoming a first-time exporter?
A: A certain amount of research is required up-front in order to group companies by product lines and to identify needs and opportunities in specific countries. It is also important to identify importers of these products into a given country. Much of this data is already available, and this is not a difficult task. One possibility is to have students from business schools get involved in this process.
Q: What is the importance of having first-time Florida exporters?
A: Developing first-time exporters is critical to the creation of jobs in Florida. A number of countries offer great potential for exports from Florida, including at least 18 in Europe and Asia, eight in Central and South America, five in Southeast Asia, plus Australia, New Zealand, China, India, the United Arab Emirates and Israel.
Q: Why don’t more U.S. companies export?
A: I have heard every imaginable excuse since my return to the U.S., from “The U.S. market is big enough for my company,” to, “I don’t know anything about foreign markets” or, “I don’t think I have sufficient resources to export.”
Q: Are these valid reasons?
A: There is no integrated export strategy offered by the U.S. or the state of Florida with the objective of creating a first-time exporter. To tap into the many opportunities that exist in these markets, Florida simply needs to develop an integrated export strategy.
Q: What prevents Florida from having this type of strategy?
A: There are several reasons: The U.S. Department of Commerce and Enterprise Florida both have opted to concentrate their efforts on existing exporters. There is no centralized location or entity to develop a targeted statewide exporting strategy for potential exporters. The Small Business Development Center has been given the responsibility of developing potential exporters into first-time exporters. Florida has SBDC offices in a variety of locations. Each provides a variety of educational and consulting services to small- and medium-size enterprises. Exporting is only one of these. Each SBDC office functions as an independent unit and does what is necessary for its own area. Each SBDC location will offer a seminar on exporting. It is left up to Enterprise Florida or a particular location to offer a trade mission.
Q: What is the SBDC Strategy?
A: Each SBDC office, which has a multitude of products and services to offer within its own market area, is operating as an independent sales office for the state. But there is no corporate entity responsible for creating and executing a comprehensive exportmarketing strategy in order to create a first-time exporter. Although the export-focused services provided by the SBDC are good, they are a fraction of its total services.
Q: What is the problem with this strategy?
A: This is comparable to a major corporation having only regional sales offices without having a headquarters to oversee marketing, research, creation of support services for customers, development of advertising and promotional services.
Q: Isn’t that the role of the U.S. Department of Commerce?
A: One could argue that the U.S. Department of Commerce provides research regarding overseas markets, and that Enterprise Florida’s job is to promote trade missions to various countries, and the role of the SBDC is to provide some assistance to a particular company if it needs help.
Q: Isn’t this an integrated export strategy?
A: No way. What we have is a corporate structure that has been developed with the hope that each individual “sales office” (SBDC) will actually sell something within its own area through workshops on exporting. Enterprise Florida would hope that these companies participate in these trade missions.
Q: Hasn’t the state built the structure to fit the strategy?
A: It has been reversed. Under existing conditions, there will never be an export strategy for creating a first-time exporter.