Dennis Zink: Good, just as a starting point I know you have a very interesting background, why don’t you explain what led you to move to China? Tell us about how many years you’ve been there and Hong Kong.
Charles Steilen: In 1975, I was a professor at Georgia State University and had started my own consulting business in Atlanta. Things were going along, there was a recession in 1975 however. One day a letter came and I opened the letter and it said, “Would you consider coming for two years to the Chinese University of Hong Kong to help us develop our graduate school of business?” I thought it was a joke at first, that one of my friends had set this up. I called my friend and I said, “This is a great joke,” and he said, “We are not smart enough to think of this as a joke.” The phone rang and it said, “Did you get our letter? Will you come?” About 8 seconds later I said, “Yes, I’ll be there soon.
In August of ’75 I took off. I went and bought a map, I had to find out where Hong Kong was. I went to a restaurant in Atlanta called Hoho, I had no idea what it meant. I said, “It looks like I’m going to go get some real chop sui,” the guy who owned the restaurant said they don’t have chop sui there. That was the beginning. That changed my entire life.
Dennis Zink: Oh my gosh. Talk about exporting; why would a company want to consider exporting? Is the US market large enough?
Charles Steilen: The US market is large enough and that’s one of the problems that many of the small and medium sized businesses only sell to an area, the Midwest or the East coast. They finally wake up and say, “We have to expand our sales. Maybe we can go to the West Coast.” If a company can do that and do it successfully, then they don’t have to export.
The other thing too is exporting does cost a few dollars to do. The third thing is the fact that a lot of companies don’t have products or services that are needed by the overseas markets. With those things in mind you don’t have to export. However, there are countries in the world that are expanding population wise, there are countries that have pretty good economies these days and given the state of the US economy, and given the weakness of the US dollar, that shows that there are some opportunities for American companies to engage in the foreign marketplace.
Dennis Zink: Okay. For those companies which have never exported before, what are the various methods by which they could begin this exporting process?
Charles Steilen: A lot of different ways to look at this. One is the new way and that’s to go on the internet, find overseas markets and you can even get a list of distributors. You can go to export.gov which is the US department of commerce library. It will tell you in every country in the world what are the main names, what are the economic development plans and what are the kinds of American products that would work in that foreign country.
If you want to pay the US government a few dollars more they will actually do some marketing research for you in that country. They’ll find what the nature of your product would be in that country, they’ll find you some alternative distributors. In fact, you might never leave the United States if you can line up a distributor over the internet and begin to sell your product that way. I am not recommending that but I do have friends who advertise to me, I have never left the US, and I’m selling my products to country x. That’s one way.
The other way is the traditional way of a trade show. You can sign up for a trade show. Some trade shows are pin pointing in one particular country, others will have an international trade show. You can go to the Hong Kong international trade show on any product in the world and you will find buyers from almost every country that will go to the international jewelry show or the electronic show etc. It’s another way.
A popular way in the states is to go on a trade mission. Export Enterprise Florida will organize regular trade missions, they just did one to Brazil, they’re doing one to the Dominican Republic. You can sign up for a trade mission, they’ll take you down there and they’ll introduce you to some potential distributors and then they’ll bring you back. There is an easy way to do this, I have just done this on my own. You can identify a country whereby in your town has a business association, for example we have the sister cities here. We have seven foreign cities we can develop potential business relationships in those cities.
My brother lives in the suburb of Chicago called Wheeling. The Korean Cultural Center for America is in his suburban town of Chicago. They have only now realized maybe they could now do business with Korea. You have, in Miami, you have all of these offices set up by the countries in South America that are trade offices. You can go down there and get some information so that you can pick a country and try to identify some sort of association in that country and go over there on your own and build a relationship then start looking at the opportunities.
I’ve just come back from my sister city in Italy. The sister city in Italy, Treviso, set me up with 14 business development calls. Every one of those companies in each town. There are ways to do it, they’re not more expensive, but it gives you the chance to build a relationship with somebody.
Trade shows, what do you do? You pile a bunch of brochures into a suitcase, you practice your sales message, you see a thousand people in five days, you collect a thousand business cards and then you come back and do what? You wait and hope that somebody was there who remembers you.
Trade missions, you don’t have the chance to really build that relationship. Each way of doing it, each channel has its own pros and cons. I recommended some friends here if you’re taking a vacation, go to an interesting country and then do your homework before you go to that country and set up the personal meetings while you’re enjoying the country or visiting the country and then get to know some of the business people.