Guest Op-Ed: Exploring the Exporting Landscape
By Bill McNutt
August 31, 2023
California was America's export champion in the 1990s. Texas grabbed the lead in 2002 and never looked back. Is your small to medium-sized Texas-based business prepared to join this wagon train crossing boundaries in search of new prospects, customers, and profits? Where do you begin? In the Lone Star State, where do you go for assistance?
When my partners and I purchased Tradesman Truck Accessories seven years ago in the little West Texas town of Winters (population 2,562), we believed we were the most improbable of export possibilities. We were mistaken.
We produce the bright aluminum storage boxes you see in pickup trucks from scratch at Tradesman and sell them under brand names like "Husky" and "Tradesman". Few countries use pickup trucks in the same way that we do in the United States, but Mexico surely does. The North American Free Trade Agreement, launched by President Ronald Reagan and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, provided us with a window of opportunity. The governor's office assisted us in capitalizing on the chance.
We contacted the Governor's Office’s Economic Development Department. They have a Mexico City office, which is directed by the ever-helpful Mónica Sánchez and her experienced, hardworking team. We call them NAFTA-gators: those who can assist us avoid stumbling blocks and develop a profitable export strategy. They soon agreed on two points. First and foremost, Mexico was a market with enormous promise for us. Second, we would not have to make any changes to our products in order to sell them south of the border.
The State of Texas Mexico City office has a database of Mexican corporations organized by industry. They used our current marketing materials to get feedback about our goods from Mexican enterprises and potential distributors. Ms. Sanchez and her staff were full of information, recommendations, and methods for our firm by the time our CEO David McGuire and I arrived in Mexico City. Best of all, they provided profiles of seven Mexican distributors who were interested in collaborating with us.
The Texas State Office did not stop there. They set up face-to-face meetings for us in Mexico City, and members of their team accompanied us. Long-distance calls were also made to possible manufacturer's reps and partners in Guadalajara and Monterrey. We are now fortunate to have two salespeople in Mexico, and sales are brisk.
Collin Street Bakery has been exporting for over 60 years, collaborating with American Express and others to distribute our famous Christmas cakes all over the world. We discovered that exporting takes one part imagination and five parts perspiration. Your foreign customer list will continue to increase as long as you have one motivated executive in charge.
We also made use of the US Department of Commerce Trade Specialists at the US Embassy in Mexico. Typically, 12 to 20 US federal entities operate within the walls of a US Embassy. Immigration, Agriculture, Commerce, State Department, C.I.A., Social Security Administration, and so on... Commercial Counsellor is the highest-ranking trade official in Mexico. His commercial marketing organization is known as the United States and Foreign Commercial Service. It has an assortment of information on your industry, from automotive to health care, oil & gas to manufacturing (www.mexico.usembassy.gov).
Aside from depending on the State of Texas and the US Department of Commerce, we recommend forming your own export outreach team: Identify personnel who speak other languages, have lived overseas, have traveled, or have worked for other exporting firms. Once your team is in place, attend webinars, study how-to books, speak with freight forwarders, and join a Trade Mission targeting your business or a U.S. government-sponsored trade conference in the region that shows the greatest potential.
It is critical to optimize your website for international search, prospects, and consumers. If you believe Brazil is a market, you should have some information in Portuguese. This will aid search engines and international prospects in finding you. Finally, consider these words from an unlikely trade source: actress Sissy Spacek, who once said,
“I was always proud about being from Texas. Maybe that was part of fearlessness. I love the fact that Texas is so big; you don't feel small because of it. You can achieve your dreams."
Bill McNutt is the former co-owner of Tradesman Truck Accessories in Winters, Texas, as well as former owner of Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana. He is a direct investor in more than 100 Silicon Valley type tech startup companies.