Are you looking for new sales? There’s an agency with an office near you that can open doors to world for your business. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Commercial Service is a leader in providing export assistance, especially to small and midsized companies. Last year, the Commercial Service helped U.S businesses generate export sales worth more than $34 billion.
The greatest strength of the Commercial Service is its 1800 trade specialists located throughout the U.S. and around the world.
“95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside the U.S.,” says International Trade Specialist Fernando Sanchez. “And because the world’s consumers know U.S. products are excellent, our companies enjoy a competitive advantage.”
Most of the export assistance offered by the Commercial Service falls into three broad categories: helping small businesses develop their exporting expertise, promoting their products, and locating buyers, partners, or distributors. The agency offers a number of services to meet these needs. But Sanchez and his colleagues recognize that every company is unique. “We’re not in the business of selling cookie-cutter fixes,” he says. “We offer our clients customized business solutions so they can make that first international sale—and then stay competitive in the global marketplace.”
A little help goes a long way
But before there can be a sale, there needs to be a buyer -— and that’s who Sanchez and the Commercial Service are particularly good at finding. “Because we have offices in 160 cities and in 82 countries around the world, we know who wants to buy what and we make sure they will make good customers for the U.S. supplier.”
Sanchez says the first thing businesspeople interested in exporting should do is to call a local trade specialist for an analysis of export opportunities. During this assessment phase, he pinpoints the assistance needed and helps develop a plan for reaching the company’s market entry goals. Sanchez has access to a vast amount of market research and, if more is needed to answer highly specific questions about particular markets and products, he can request customized research from one of his 1800 colleagues around the world.
That’s how Greg Mariscal of Van Nuys, California-based Hirsch Pipe & Supply Company started his export business. Mariscal suspected there were good markets for Hirsh’s
plumbing fixtures. “People will pay a premium for ‘made in the USA’,” he notes. But he had little practical knowledge of the export process. He began by calling his contacts in the industry for advice. Almost immediately, he was directed to the Los Angeles U.S. Export Assistance Center, where he worked with Sanchez and his colleagues. “I asked them a lot of questions,” Mariscal recalls. “I was starting from scratch.”
Sanchez often advises clients like Mariscal, who may not be familiar with the mechanics of exporting, to attend free seminars provided by the Commercial Service and its partners. These workshops cover the specifics of the export process, including how to get financing, filling out documents, and how to do business in specific international markets. “Our goal is to provide our clients with solutions,” says Sanchez. “We give them the skills and knowledge needed to be successful exporters.”
Finding Foreign Buyers
Since the key aspects of any transaction are identifying a market and a buyer, this is the general focus of much of what the Commercial Service does. Specific services include Flexible Market Research that provides customized answers to questions about how to sell a particular product or service in a specific market. Commercial Service specialists, who live and work in the market, will identify distribution channels, promotion practices, key competitors, pricing, market trends, and more.
One crucial decision many companies make is how and when to zero in on a particular market. Some companies want to test worldwide markets for response first. This was Mariscal’s strategy. To launch his business into exporting, he advertised in the product catalog Commercial News USA, a Commercial Service publication that is given free of charge to international buyers. This generated some initial sales leads that Mariscal quickly turned into new international customers.
Once a promising market is identified, companies will then want to locate a buyer, distributor, or joint venture partner. The Commercial Service offers clients a number of ways to go about their search. The International Partner Search service pre-qualifies potential distributors and other partners. The Commercial Service draws on its extensive industry and other business contacts in the market to generate for the U.S. supplier a list of carefully matched prospective partners. Mariscal used this service to find qualified contacts in Middle Eastern markets.
But when Mariscal was just starting out, he preferred more intensive assistance when searching for distributors. For him, the Gold Key Service was ideal. Commercial Service experts in several Latin American markets screened and researched potential distributors for Hirsch Pipe & Supply, then scheduled appointments for Mariscal with the top prospects. Commercial Service officers in-country handled the logistics of the visit, including arranging transportation and interpreting. "The Commercial Service was very helpful in identifying potential customers overseas,” he says. “Their assistance greatly enhanced our international marketing efforts."
Once prospective partners and buyers have been identified, the enhanced International Company Profile service conducts on-site background checks and provides recommendations on the reputation of prospective partners and buyers in the local market.
Sanchez also recommends to some clients that they participate in specific U.S. and international trade shows where, in addition to showing their wares, they receive country market and sector counseling and meet with international buyers on the trade shows’ premises. The Commercial Service sends teams of specialists to assist U.S. exhibitors at key trade shows. “Matching qualified U.S. companies with qualified international buyers is perhaps our greatest strength,” Sanchez says. “We do this matching at trade shows, we do it for individual U.S. firms abroad through our Gold Key Service, and now we’re doing in on-line.”
The on-line service is called BuyUSA.com, a Web site that allows U.S. companies to locate international buyers and distributors, get shipping and tariff information, and collect payment for their products. Sanchez says that the expertise and physical network of the U.S. Commercial Service make BuyUSA.com a marketplace that will save buyers and sellers time, money, and worry.
For U.S. companies requiring sustained support in an international market, the Platinum Key Service offers an array of tailored assistance that includes helping resolve market entry issues. Commercial Service officers, who have diplomatic status and access to high government officials in the countries where they serve, are involved in providing the Platinum Key and the other new services.
Now a client of the L.A. U.S. Export Assistance Center for more than a decade, Mariscal has worked with several trade specialists there to enter new markets and expand his export business. “Everyone I’ve worked with was really helpful,” he says. Hirsch Pipe & Supply now has customers in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, and sales are strong. In slightly more than five years, the company has grown from five California locations to 10. Trade specialist Sanchez is enthusiastic about the prospects for Mariscal and entrepreneurs like him. “This is a great time for U.S. businesses to expand their sales to global markets,” says Sanchez. “And you don’t need to be a huge company, or in a high-tech sector, to do it.”
For more information about the U.S. Commercial Service, visit www.export.gov.
• Trade Information Center http://www.export.gov/tic
• US Commercial Service http://www.export.gov/cs and http://www.buyusa.de
• Foreign Trade Division of the U.S. Census Bureau http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/www
• Export Import Bank of the US http://www.exim.gov/
• US Small Business Administration http://www.sba.gov/
• National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America http://www.ncbfaa.org/