Trade Routes: U.S. Exports Are Booming; Are Yours?

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The downturn in the U.S. housing market has garnered much press recently, but when considering the economy as a whole, housing represents approximately 5% of the national economy; U.S. exports, on the other hand, make up 12%—a number that is increasing at an annual rate of 13.6%, a higher rate of growth than that of most American markets. Are you missing out on this growing market?

The cheap dollar is making U.S. products and services increasingly attractive to foreign buyers. It’s also making the country an inexpensive place to tour, and the nature and habits of international visitors are telling of the potential for exported goods. Last week, while speaking to a group of board of directors candidates in San Francisco, I ran into an Australian couple at a restaurant in Fisherman’s Wharf. They were on a five-week tour of the U.S., one of many they have taken in this country, and they are not an exceptionally wealthy family. The gentleman runs a muffler repair shop, and the lady sells, guess what—cosmetics.

If this couple could afford to fund a five-week tour to the U.S., imagine how many American products and services the rest of Australia’s population could afford to buy. Imagine how many international visitors the U.S. hosts every year, and how much is purchased during these visits. If they liked what they bought, then perhaps they would like to continue buying the same items at home. Have you thought of marketing to visitors as a way of promoting your products overseas?

And, if your products and services sell in the U.S., wouldn’t they sell just as well overseas? They most likely would if you first did the following:

Select the right markets. Not all markets are right for all products and services. You need to determine what kind of consumers would be potential buyers of your specific products and services. Is there a certain income level segment of the population that would be more likely to buy your products and services?

According to Kenichi Ohmae, author of The Borderless World, when the average gross personal income of a population exceeds US$10,000, that population becomes a consumer market. So don’t underestimate emerging markets as potential export opportunities. Africa, for example, is becoming a growing consumer of a great variety of products, including cosmetics. India, too, where the middle class population is larger than the entire population of the U.S., spelling a huge opportunity.

Do your homework. There are many things you should check out about every market before you take the plunge, and you don’t need to spend a lot of money to do so. On the left side of a sheet of paper, list, in order of importance to your business, the qualities that you would hope to find in the perfect market. For example, size of market, ease of access, nature of local competition, preferred distribution channels, typical disposable income and so on. In the next five columns, list the names of the countries you are considering across the top. Then rate each quality or criteria for each country on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best. By the time you are done, you will have a reasonable idea of which countries might be best for your business.

These figures are fictitious, but they do give an idea of how you might compare the different countries and rank them based on the criteria that are important to your product or service.

Get free advice. The U.S. Department of Commerce provides a wealth of information at no cost. Check Export America,, the official magazine of the International Trade Administration in the Department of Commerce. A Basic Guide to Exporting,, is another source. For a relatively low cost, the Department of Commerce also offers a wide variety of very useful services. It is a good idea to also check state agencies and their Web sites—program and guide names may vary state to state, but information is usually listed as International Trade Centers. It also pays to visit the embassies and consulates of the countries you wish to export to, and contact the Commercial Attaché for specific information. While there, you may also want to check the home country’s phone book or directory listings to see what brands and companies are represented. Sometimes, you can even get specific names of contacts in that country who could be possible clients or distributors. And, of course, get on the Internet and visit each country’s Web site.

Plan to visit. There is no substitute to seeing for yourself how markets operate; by all means, do visit the country or countries that interest you. That first-hand information is invaluable. In addition, there is also no substitute for personal, face-to-face contact with potential customers and suppliers. Remember, business all around the world starts with relationships, and business grows as the relationships grow.

Learn how to negotiate. Negotiating skills are vital to any business. If you’ve never had any training in negotiating, get some—what you learn can save you millions of dollars both in the U.S. and abroad.

Study the cultures. Each culture has its own way of doing business and of negotiating. Negotiating across cultures can be challenging, especially if you don’t know much about the specific cultures with which you will have to deal. Understanding the cultures contributes enormously to the ease and success of doing business internationally.

In summary, the global market is becoming much more attractive as the dollar decreases and makes American products and services more affordable to the whole world. Now is the time for you to get your share of the multi-trillion dollar international market. Go for it.

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