By Bill McNutt
Special to the Corsicana Daily Sun
In the 1990s, California was America's export champion. In 2002, Texas took the lead and never looked back. Is your small to medium size Texas-based company ready to jump on this wagon train traveling across borders in search of new prospects, customers, and profits? How do you get started? Where do you turn for help in the Lone Star State?
When my partners and I bought Tradesman Truck Accessories seven years ago in the little West Texas town of Winters (population 2,562), we were the most unlikely of export candidates, or so we thought. We were wrong.
At Tradesman, we build, from scratch, the shiny aluminum storage boxes you see in pickup trucks, and sell them under names like "Husky" and "Tradesman." Very few countries use the pickup truck the way we do in the United States, but in Mexico they certainly do. The North America Free Trade Agreement, initiated by President Ronald Reagan and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, gave us an opening. The governor’s office helped us seize the opportunity.
We turned to the Office of the Governor's Economic Development Department. They have an office in Mexico City, headed by the ever-helpful Mónica Sánchez (firstname.lastname@example.org) and her knowledgeable hard-working staff. We call them NAFTA-gators: folks able to help us avoid the potholes and formulate a successful export plan. They quickly confirmed two things. Number One, Mexico was a market of great potential for us. Number Two, we would not have to make any adjustments to our products to sell south of the border.
The State of Texas Mexico City office maintains a database of Mexico-based companies by sector. They used our existing marketing materials to gain comments from Mexican companies and potential distributors about our products. By the time our CEO David McGuire and I got to Mexico City, Ms. Sanchez and her team were full of information, tips, and tactics for our company. Best of all, they had the profiles of seven Mexican distributors who were interested in a business partnership with us.
The State of Texas office did not stop there. They arranged face-to-face meetings for us in Mexico City and their staff members accompanied us. Long distance calls to prospective manufactures reps and partners in Guadalajara and Monterrey took place as well. Today, we are blessed to have two representatives in Mexico and sales are flowing.
At Collin Street Bakery, we have been exporting for over 60 years, partnering with American Express, and others, to sell our famous Christmas cakes to every corner of the globe. We found that exporting is one part inspiration and five parts perspiration. So long as you have one motivated executive taking the lead, your international customer list grows.
We also used the U.S. Department of Commerce Trade Specialists at the United States Embassy in Mexico. A U.S. Embassy will typically have 12 to 20 U.S. government agencies operating within its walls. These include Immigration, Agriculture, Commerce, State Department, C.I.A, Social Security Administration, etc… The highest-ranking commerce official in Mexico has the title of Commercial Counselor. His trade promotion group is called the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service. It is a wealth of information about your industrial sector from automotive to health care, from oil and gas to manufacturing (www.mexico.usembassy.gov).
Outside of relying on the State of Texas and the U.S. Department of Commerce, our best suggestion is to form your own export outreach team: Identify employees who speak foreign languages, have lived abroad, traveled, or worked for other companies who export. Once your team is established, participate in webinars, read how-to books, consult with freight forwarders, and participate on a Trade Mission that targets your industry or attend a U.S. government sponsored trade conference in the region that shows the most promise.
Adapting your website for foreign search, prospects, and customers is a must. If you think Brazil is a market, have some information in Portuguese. This will help the search engines and foreign prospects find you. Finally, consider the remarks from an unlikely trade source, actress Sissy Spacek once said: "I was always proud about being from Texas. Maybe that was part of fearlessness. I love the fact that Texas is so big; you don't feel small because of it. You can achieve your dreams."
Bill McNutt is the Co-Owner of Tradesman Truck Accessories in Winters, Texas and a Co-Owner of Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana.