So many women business owners are still reluctant to risk expansion of their companies beyond the US. Perhaps you are one of them. Yes, we now have the Internet, NAFTA, and access to seminars on exporting, but in many ways doing business on an international scale can still seem confusing, expensive, and a bit overwhelming. What if you have difficulty learning foreign languages? What if you lose a big account by accidentally insulting a customer (cultural faux pas)? How can you be confident that quality is being maintained while you are operating from a distance?
Aquatrols Corporation of America, Inc. creates specialty agricultural products including surfactants that help water move through soil and helps soil remain receptive to the water. The primary customers of this Cherry Hill, NJ, based company include golf courses, other sports-related turf, greenhouses, and nurseries. Perhaps the leaders of this family-owned business could have been satisfied being a successful local, regional or even national company, but they recognized that their products had worldwide potential. Plus they would need to grow to compete against larger corporations and achieve appropriate return on investment in the research and development behind their products. Aquatrols’ president, Ms. Tracy Jarman, provides the following tips based on their over 20 years of experience doing business on an international scale” for business owners who are still hesitant.
Be Prepared to Delegate
Maybe some business owners don’t try to expand on an international basis because they are afraid that they will make a mistake, embarrass themselves, or fail.
“Most Presidents should probably not approach international expansion by themselves. A company can prevent costly mistakes if people who are experienced in doing business on an international scale are brought in right from the beginning,” offers Jarman.
Demie Moore, Acting Director of Marketing, and Nick Gadd, International Accounts Manager, have taken the lead to establish Aquatrols’ working relationships around the world. Jarman typically takes a few international trips each year. Sometimes she participates in an important meeting to show “presidential” support for their efforts. In late 1996, Jarman presided over a ceremonial dinner celebrating the 15-year anniversary of Aquatrols’ working relationship with a Japanese distributor. As president, Jarman leads when Aquatrols’ international business involves contracts, joint ventures, or regulatory/ registration issues. Stan Kostka, Director of Research and Development, spends about 40% of his international time on regulatory affairs alone. He works directly with regulators and the consultants who support them. He also had to deal with submissions for the considerable review that is required of a company like Aquatrols.
Be Open to Learn
One of the benefits of doing business on an international scale is the opportunity to learn about different cultures.
“We have found that people are pleased to share information about their countries because we show a genuine interest,” says Jarman.
They have also been pleased by the willingness of their distributors around the world to handle logistical arrangements in regards to key meetings.
“We started with something we knew well…golf course turf management. That way we had something to offer while we learned about other markets,” observes Jarman.
Be Observant About Differences that Could Affect What People Will Buy
Cultural differences can have a major impact on peoples’ receptivity to different products. For Aquatrols, for example, this involved researching varying height preferences for grass, tolerance levels for insects, etc.
“When we saw women hand picking weeds at a golf course as part of a ‘jobs program’ in Thailand, we quickly concluded that one should not bother trying to sell herbicide to Thai golf courses,” shares Jarman.
In some countries, they won’t be able to sell surfactants until the government officials turn off the water spigots to raise awareness of the need to conserve resources. However, in Spain, Japan, Taiwan, and England, they can not dedicate thousands of square miles to grow crops as we do in the U.S. They are motivated to buy our products for space saving reasons. Stan Kostka also suggests spending a few days immersing yourself in the local culture. He feels this helps him think like the people in the local environment.
Participate in the Major Conferences and Trade Shows
Many people from Aquatrols attend the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) trade show each year.
“We typically host an international dinner,” says Jarman.
Everyone saves money and time by meeting at the major trade shows. Over the years, Aquatrols has become involved with other associations that were recommended by their distributors who sell on an international basis.
“Piggy Back” on Positive Perceptions of the U.S. When Possible
The U.S. is in the lead on golf course/turf management, so the GCSAA is the preeminent trade show with 20,000 attendees. It’s helpful to Aquatrols because it brings international customers to them. They started their international expansion by looking for countries that wanted to be more like the U.S. They looked for countries with golf courses that were maintained at a high level.
“The U.S. is not in the lead in greenhouses or ornamentals, so we have to travel more and seek people out in those areas of our business,” says Jarman.
Anticipate Communicating By E-Mail
Time zone differences do reduce the frequency of telephone calls. E-mail can be used for contracts/agreements, general correspondence, placing orders, and arranging meetings.
Look for Cost Effective Ways to Do Marketing on A Global Scale
Aquatrols’ marketing program includes display advertising in major industry magazines, their website, visibility at major trade shows, provision of speeches/seminars, participation in research studies, association memberships, direct mail (done by the international marketing cooperators), meaningful gifts and culturally appropriate entertainment, publication of articles, and provision of product-related training via “Aquatrols University.”