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Trade Routes: Navigating International Business

By: Michael Wynne
Posted: September 5, 2008, from the September 2008 issue of GCI Magazine.

After reading a Trade Routes column, Jeri Ross, MPH, president and CEO, LJR Inc. (dba Institut’ DERMed), decided she wanted to increase her company’s international business. The following is a transcription of a Q&A session I had with her. After many of her answers, I asked what was the lesson she learned from that specific experience; those lessons are set off in italic script.

GCI: How do you feel about today’s international market?

Jeri Ross: Economic times are ripe for pursuing international business due to the declining value of the American dollar. Countries around the globe can gain significant financial margins buying U.S. cosmetic products—and they are doing just that.

GCI: That was not quite the situation when you got started last year. What inspired you to make this move?

Jeri Ross: My inspiration to go international was based on both a professional and personal desire to see the world while doing business. Having spent the majority of my career in the medical industry, raising a family and getting a bachelor’s degree in health services administration and a master’s degree in public health and research, I knew that I would devote the second half of my life to being a world traveler. I also knew that I wanted to shift my career, to be my own boss and work more closely with my sister to advance her enterprise, Institut’ DERMed, a medical spa and line of cosmeceutical skin care products.

GCI: How did you get started?

Jeri Ross: My sister, Lyn Ross, challenged me to develop a serious cellulite treatment product for her line, so that was my way in. I spent two years conducting research and talking with scientists worldwide to design a proprietary formulation that had never been done and that really worked. With a whole lot of tenacity, patience and teamwork, my CelluliteRx products launched in [Spring 2008] in Paris. Of course, there is a story behind this phenomenal event that includes days when I just wanted to move to Mexico, live happily ever after on $1,000 a month and forget about it.

GCI: How does one even get started with international distribution?

Jeri Ross: I was fortunate in having my product picked up by an agent out of New York, based on a recommendation from our Institut’ DERMed public relations firm. Another way to get started is going to the U.S. Department of Commerce (www.export.gov). They have several programs that help find distributors, which is the reason they exist—to encourage U.S. companies to export. I found my local international trade specialist on his Web site, and made an appointment with him. My goal, at the time, was to find out about funding for international exporting, as well as learn more about how it’s done. I’m sure there are other ways to find distributors. You can certainly use ICMAD (www.icmad.org) as a resource to help you get started.

GCI: What was it like working with the agent?