International trade currently dominates news headlines, and the stakes are high for small and medium-sized manufacturers in Illinois to sell overseas.
To learn how to mitigate risk and prepare for global opportunities, IMEC and the Chicago Regional Growth Corporation (CRGC) partner to offer an intensive training program called ExporTech. ExporTech is a nationwide program that provides personalized coaching to a small group of manufacturers with their development of a strategic plan for international sales. Over the course of three months, each company receives custom market research to narrow down their target markets. The course covers
- export best practices
- payment options
- market entry and sales channels
- logistics and shipping
ExporTech includes one-on-one sessions with relevant service providers. ExporTech is held 3-4 times per year. 27 area companies have successfully graduated from the ExporTech program since 2016.
CRGC and IMEC talked to Larry Siegal, Sales Manager at Vogel Tool & Die in Addison, to hear firsthand about his company’s participation in ExporTech.
What did you expect when you signed up for ExporTech?
ExporTech was so much more than I expected! I thought I would walk away with a couple tips and sit through a lot of presentations by business pitching their services. I was so surprised and pleased to discover what a well-planned program it is. My personal coach, Bernie Bowersock, had decades of experience and wisdom and the others we worked with, such as the researchers who helped us define new markets, all provided expert level guidance and advice.
The service providers who participated add significant value and focused on education on export-specific tasks and issues as opposed to simply promoting their specific products.
The structure – one in-person meeting per month plus homework – enabled us, as a very small company, to participate without significant business disruption.
The feedback and shared experience of going through the training with other companies – start-ups and established businesses both – helped enhance the experience and was a great sounding board for ideas as we all learned together.
What were Vogel’s challenges related to export? How did ExporTech help you with these challenges?
Although we had international sales, they were not through any focused plan or the result of concerted efforts on our part. As a small company, we were always too busy dealing with the day-to-day to focus on exporting or to even acknowledge that growing export sales requires a strategy and plan.
First, ExporTech forced us to develop an export-specific business plan: To allocate dollars and resources. To pick countries and specific action items on which we will focus.
Secondly, we were very much in the “we don’t know what we don’t know” phase. We were unaware of some of the regulatory issues that govern export activities, nor ways to reduce our risk by protecting transactions via proper process and policies
Have you seen any impact to your business after participating in ExporTech?
Because we have a very mature niche product line that is already well known in the US, we were beginning to experience a domestic sales decline. Without a significant growth in international sales, we would likely have had to lay off several workers.
One country that ExporTech market research identified as a potential market was the UK. Vogel Tool & Die began a marketing campaign targeting the country and interestingly, although we have very few UK inquiries and no new sales yet, we have seen an increase in inquiries from Ireland, Scotland & New Zealand. We have had one prospective customer from Ireland visit our factory and a prospective dealer fly in from New Zealand.
Any suggestions for companies considering participating in ExporTech?
Do get buy-in from upper management and a commitment to be involved in the ExporTech program, and don’t simply send a shipping clerk or sales assistant.
Do budget time to participate in the three in-person classes and to complete the homework. The homework should spur robust discussion on the pros and cons of various strategies, and how these exporting strategies fit into your overall business plan.
Do share-as-you-go with others in the company not actively participating in the training.
An Added Bonus!
Vogel Tool and Die was recognized with the Export Continuing Excellence Award, as part of the 2018 Illinois Governors Export Awards. Congratulations to the entire team at Vogel for this honor!
About Vogel Tool & Die: Based in Addison, Vogel Tool & Die began making pipe and tube notchers over 80 years ago. From chain link fences to office furniture, wheelchairs, conveyors, car suspensions and more - Vogel pipe notchers and other tube fabricating tools are used to manufacture thousands of products you encounter every day (www.vogeltool.com).
If your company is interested in jump starting your international sales, and you would like more information on ExporTech’s next cohort, please contact Lisa Reijula, Director of Global Programs at Chicago Regional Growth Corporation at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To prepare your business operations for international opportunities, contact IMEC at email@example.com.
This article was written by Lisa Reijula, Director of Global Programs at Chicago Regional Growth Corporation.