Many small/medium manufacturers face the question of exporting at some point in their growth. Some companies may suddenly become “accidental exporters” through their online presence, but for others, the pull of overseas opportunities can become strong over time. Done properly, exporters can transcend the limitations of the domestic market, seize the potential for profitable new growth, broaden their customer base, and even enhance their brand image here at home. According to a new study from Business Roundtable, in 2017 alone, Vermont companies were able to sell their products in 139 countries and territories!
Taking advantage of overseas opportunities, however, is not without its challenges. There are financial hurdles associated with currency exchange. Exporters must identify and select the right partners, then adapt to cultural and language barriers while providing timely service and support across multiple time zones. This is to say nothing of the dizzying compliance and regulation considerations—denied persons lists, trade agreements, duties and taxes…. the list goes on.
For those who successfully make the leap into exporting, the results can be transformative. A Princeton University study found that when compared to their domestic-only counterparts, exporters realized 8% higher sales, 10% greater value per worker, and 6% higher wages. [Source]
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to these challenges, but with the right partners, virtually any business can make the kinds of consistent, incremental improvements that together will have a significant, positive impact on their export efforts.
VMEC and ExporTech™
For a growing number of small-to mid-size Vermont companies, those partnerships begin at ExporTech™. This hands-on export development program takes a systematic approach to dismantling many of the obstacles named above, making it possible to tap into new markets with a customized export expansion strategy that creates the greatest revenue potential with the least risk.
ExporTech™ is the only national program that helps each participant develop a peer-reviewed international sales growth plan. The plan-development process involves a great deal of local coaching support and is generally completed in just 12 weeks. Armed with this newfound information and awareness, participants move from planning to closing sales much more quickly than they would on their own.
Participants represent the full spectrum of export familiarity, too—from those just contemplating their first overseas expansion to more established businesses hoping to broaden their global presence. Regardless of their level of experience, ExporTech™ connects companies with international business experts from across the region. The bottom line? No company or enterprise is “too small” to export.
Mike Stone, founder of Stone & Associates, is the key presenter for Vermont’s ExporTech™ program, as well as for other MEP National Network™ Centers like VMEC across the country. His client work focuses on strategy development projects that involve research and analysis to understand customer needs, generate market insights, or devise successful competitive strategies in global markets. He joins VMEC and a number of other Vermont and regional organizations to provide a comprehensive blend of highly experienced assistance resources.
In conjunction with Stone, VMEC developed ExporTech™ as a 3-4 month, consortium learning-based program that combines on-site breakout work with three small-group discussion and presentation (“consortium”) days. Typical topics during these days may include:
- Getting started with ExporTech™
- Successful strategy development
- Defining obstacles and risks
- Basics of export compliance
- Logistics and documentation
In order to maximize effectiveness, each ExporTech™ session is limited to 8 companies, with each bringing a team of up to 4 individuals (pricing is determined per company, not per person). The process begins with consortium Day 1, where participants talk about their specific needs while building a base of understanding that enables each team to learn from the others. Day 1 focuses on plans and barriers, the elements of an effective export strategic plan, and identifying the gaps that exist for each participating group.
Consortium days are typically separated by 4-6 weeks of collaboration among coaches and participants at their own facilities, with much of the hard work of developing and revising international sales growth plans taking place during this time between sessions.
Consortium Day 2 includes intake surveys intended to help the leaders and participants better understand each company’s specific needs. These surveys also make it possible to offer focused content and enable tailored one-on-one time with specific resources. At this point in the process, participants have been working with their coaches, and they begin more refined, detailed work on their own plans, learn about the opportunities and challenges of exporting, relating them to their activities, and then working with their coaches to make significant breakthroughs.
On consortium Day 3, participants present their new plans. Following each presentation, the teams receive input from a panel of experts familiar with both ExporTech™ and their specific needs, followed by an opportunity to update and learn more with on-site coaching resources. In this consultative, supportive way, the collective wisdom and experience enables each participant organization to learn and instruct in equal measure.
The partnership doesn’t end at the conclusion of day three, either. “We’re about relationships, and we take a longer view,” says VMEC Director of Client Services & Innovation Engineering Black Belt Lisa Henderson. “The network of support continues long after the sessions are over. Many of these resources are public, and everyone is willing to help in an ongoing way.”
In fact, Henderson says VMEC’s involvement with the typical ExporTech™ participant spans three years – beginning with an assessment of their domestic work, continuing with plan development and execution, and including plan expansion and adjustment as necessary.
The VMEC Advantage
Although ExporTech™ is one of nearly two dozen MEP National Network™ center export programs offered across the country, Vermont participants have the benefit of access to resources with the understanding and experience needed to enable their success. The coaching line-up has been honed over several years of Vermont ExporTech™ events held since 2014, and the roster of resources is blended with a flexibility that is able to deliver tailored content.
In addition to VMEC, the primary Vermont ExporTech™ planning partners include: State of Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, Vermont Global Trade Partnership; Vermont Small Business Development Center; State of Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets; Vermont Economic Development Authority; U.S. Small Business Administration; NIST MEP; U.S. Commercial Service and FedEx.
“If we can’t get a specific resource to one of the consortium days, we make sure that they’re made available in between consortium sessions,” VMEC’s Henderson says. “We will bring the right resources or see that they are able to connect with participants either on the public days, or during the interim coaching days.”
Is ExporTech™ Right for Me?
This resource and subject flexibility makes ExporTech™ a fit for almost any Vermont business, regardless of their position on the continuum of exporting experience. Some are seasoned players on the global stage. Others may be the “accidental” exporters who find themselves pursuing international opportunities while perhaps lacking strategic experience, or having run into challenges and gaps in their understanding.
“When a Vermont business is ready to start or expand their export efforts, we are ready to work with them,” Henderson says. “As long as they are ready to do the work, we’re here.” She adds, however, that part of her pre-program assessment of interested parties is intended to confirm their commitment. Not only do those whose effort wanes fail to maximize their return on the investment, but any grant funding applied towards the program cost must be reimbursed if the final deliverable is not completed.
Past Participants Say…
Committing to any new program can be daunting – especially if it represents the first step on the road to a vast new landscape of opportunity and challenge. No one understands that better than Abbott Stark, Co-Founder and CMO of the Burlington-based organic skincare brand, Ogee. Stark came into ExporTech™ with some reservations, but it ultimately proved to be a fortuitous endeavor.
“Thank goodness we did the program when we did,” Stark says. “There came a moment when we did start to export, following the program, and suddenly we needed all of the information that we had received during the courses and conversations with the other businesses and resources that were provided. If we had not completed the program, we would have been driving blind, not knowing which issues we were going to face and what was important in regard to international trade.”
Ogee’s experience is hardly unique. In fact, when measured over a 3-year impact cycle, the average ExporTech™ participating company/enterprise generates $770,000 in new sales
Above and beyond this figure, though, ExporTech™ alumni point to the ways their involvement helped their understanding of working in a number of areas:
“ExporTech™ provided us with a wealth of resources that have helped us focus our plans for exporting and to evaluate not only export markets, but domestic. The speakers were excellent, the coursework very informative, and the counseling invaluable.”
– Aminta “Minty” Conant, CFO, Caledonia Spirits
“Our sales goal for the year we just finished was international sales [of] 20%. [We] had results of 23% international. ExporTech™ was helpful in getting us focused on one market as opposed to trying to attack too many at one time. It was also helpful in understanding how to structure foreign partner agreements. The connections we made at ExporTech™ were also invaluable.”
– Larry Jacobs, Director, Sales & Marketing, Hayward Tyler
“ExporTech™ is the essential program to understanding international opportunity…This was a critical part of our business-building phase and allowed us to grow as a team.”
– Phil Susmann, President, Norwich University Applied Research Institutes (NUARI)
The Bottom Line
VMEC’s ExporTech™ program can help your Vermont manufacturing enterprise or organization make informed decisions about strategic export programs, and we can also help you implement them. To learn more, contact VMEC today!