20 May 2010

Richard Burkemper: How To Export To Overseas Markets

Richard Burkemper: How to export to overseas markets
We recently held a breakfast networking event on April 27th in Dalton, GA. Titled Expanding Your Flooring Business in the International Marketplace, the DOMOTEX event included perspective from Richard Burkemper, President and CEO of RJB Associates, who shared his first hand experience of the “dos” and “don’ts” of exporting to European and other overseas markets.

Rich was recently Senior Vice President of Mohawk Industries, responsible for all markets outside of the United States and Canada. Over his years in the flooring industry, Rich has served 6 years as General Manager of an independent retailer, 12 years as Vice President of one of the nation’s largest flooring distribution organizations, 7 years as President/CEO of two successful manufacturing turn-around operations in the flooring and wall covering industries, 13 years in carpet manufacturing focused on distribution and international sales and marketing and his current consultancy business.

In other words, Rich knows a thing or two about expanding business internationally and exporting to overseas markets !

For those of you not located in the Dalton area or who weren't able to attend the DOMOTEX event, Rich shares his insights in the Q&A below covering some of the topics discussed that relate to exporting to overseas markets.

KL: Before US companies begin to consider exporting to another country, how do they go about deciding which regions of the world are best suited for their products? Should their decision be strictly based on growth opportunity and statistics? What type of market analysis should be done prior to exporting?

RB: Before proceeding with an export strategy you need to be comfortable that you have analyzed your company to determine its strengths and weaknesses and determined your core competence. You need to evaluate your capacity to take on new business in the short and long term and determine if you have the products compatible with the trends overseas.

If you are not familiar with exporting you need to retain someone to help you through initially, at least until you can develop a business and staff accordingly. You need to evaluate the overseas markets by regions and determine if you can be competitive against others marketing there. Just because a market is growing does not mean they are open to importing your product.

You need to determine the price points on the chosen products you wish to offer and add freight, duty, currency adjustments and marketing cost. Even if you can sell in US Dollars, the product needs to be competitive against others in the market.

KL: What about Distributors or Agents, how do you go about finding them in foreign markets?

RB: There is no one sales and marketing system that fits every market. You need to determine how product is sold most effectively in the local market and adapt your approach accordingly. You need local marketing intelligence and must determine if you need to use an Agent, Distributor, Dealer or your own Employed Staff.

The issues you face in North America to determine how to market are the same overseas; however they are compounded with local cultural and language issues as you move overseas. In many countries the cost to exit a personnel strategy can be costly if not thoroughly investigated in advance.

KL: How should cultural differences or language affect your consideration when doing business with certain countries?

RB: While the language of business is certainly English there are markets where language skills are necessary. No matter which language is spoken, it's imperative that you understand and accept the local culture. You always need to Think Global while Acting Local. You must adapt your needs to those of the local thinking. The business schools are loaded with case studies of companies going outside their home markets and trying to impose their home marketing and product philosophies only to fail.

KL: What about exchange rates – how does that affect your business?

RB: Even if you’re selling in dollars, you and the purchaser have to give consideration to the currency situation between the dollar and that of the market of interest. You cannot expect to stay long term without a currency strategy. American firms are often mistrusted as many of their peers have vacated the market when the currency moved against them. Unless you are selling one time specials you have to think this through before quoting a price.

KL: How important is choosing a good freight forwarder or broker?

RB: Even if you have a full time Export Department you want to partner with a Forwarder or Broker that knows the commodity you are dealing with and the markets you wish to penetrate. There are many local market peculiarities that can affect moving your product across the border or through the port. Custom delays can be costly in time and money and a good partner can help you avoid the pitfalls.

KL: What are the best ways to meet your customers?

RB: Listen for recommendations of associates familiar with your product and the export markets.

Attend trade shows offering a venue to meet a large number of potential clientele including Agents, Distributors and Dealers interested in your commodity. An exhibition like Domotex in Hannover allows you to meet potential clientele for flooring from around the globe in one place.

After you identify a potential client of interest you need to do local market intelligence to determine that how they are presenting themselves is the reality within the market. No matter how you meet the client, you need to familiarize yourself with local market customs and laws to ensure you do not make a commitment that could be detrimental should you change your approach. Just because someone has a professional brochure, web site or is well spoken does not necessarily mean they are the right candidate for your product and business.

Thank you, Rich!

What other questions do you have about expanding your flooring business internationally and exporting to overseas markets?

~ Katherine

Katherine León
Director of Sales - DOMOTEX and LIGNA Worldwide Events

Hannover Fairs USA
1170 Howell Mill Road, Suite 300
Atlanta, GA 30318
Phone: 404.214.0432

Email: katherine@hfusa.com


Quality Floors Direct said...

Wow what a great reference this post is. For someone in the flooring business, this definitely peaks my interest. Thanks for posting.

Katherine said...

Thanks for the comment. Rich is a very knowledgeable resource and just an overall great guy. I hope to continue posting information that the flooring community feels is relevant and useful.