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February 22, 2018
Small business exporting: Beyond hit or miss

Photo: Andrew Miline

Entrepreneur John Daly turned to exporting to help his company better ride out ups and downs in the domestic economy.

Small Business - Exporting

Small business exporting: Beyond hit or miss

In a year, John Daly reorganized his company's approach to exporting and tripled its sales overseas.

Amy Martinez | 1/28/2015

In a year, John Daly reorganized his company's approach to exporting and tripled its sales overseas.

In 2013, Pompano Beach manufacturer SurfaceLogix was still fighting to recover from the recession when owner John Daly got serious about expanding the company's overseas sales.

Founded in 1950, the company makes products for the construction industry, including concrete coatings and sealers to protect pool decks and driveways.

Daly had sporadically sold products to construction projects in the Bahamas, but exports accounted for less than 5% of his total annual sales. "A builder who knew us in the states would tell us about a new hotel or office park going up," he says, but "we weren't marketing in any particular countries. It was really just hit or miss."

Hoping that distributing products globally would help the company better ride out U.S. economic fluctuations, Daly began working with a consultant from the Florida Small Business Development Center Network in Fort Lauderdale ["Exporting — a Plan," page 72] to develop a way to more aggressively market his company's products internationally.

He also attended an Enterprise Florida trade mission to the Dominican Republic and completed a seven-week SBDC certificate program to learn about putting an export plan into practice.

The SBDC pointed him to distributors in Latin America, identified overseas construction activities as potential sources of business and walked him through the intricacies of operating in different countries, including how to get paid and complying with local laws.

"Some countries are more difficult than others to get products in and out of, and they really got specific," he says.

One lesson: Doing business in Latin America meant his product labels could no longer be in English only. The SBDC consultant helped put him in touch with Spanish translators in each target market so that he could tailor the labels to suit local idioms.

Since implementing the plan over the past year, Daly says, "our export sales have more than tripled."

Partly because of the overseas expansion, Daly has hired five employees since 2013, for a total of 11. His goal is to do 20% of his business overseas in two to three years. As he spoke, a $5,400 order for 200 gallons of sealer for a commercial project came in from Grenada.

Small Business Development Centers

Among the sources of help for small businesses in the state is the Florida SBDC Network, created in 1976 as part of a pilot program funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Congress expanded the program nationwide in 1980.

The SBDC doesn't lend money. It provides technical assistance to entrepreneurs and small businesses, offering professional consulting, management training and information to help them grow and succeed.

The SBDC doesn't charge for consulting but does offer fee-based services to qualifying businesses. Today, the Florida SBDC Network has more than 250 employees and 45 offices statewide. It's based at the University of West Florida and receives funding from the SBA and state of Florida, among others.

Exporting - A Plan

Three years ago, the Florida SBDC Network and Enterprise Florida formed a partnership to help small and medium-sized businesses expand overseas. Since 2013, the network has increased the number of international trade consultants sixfold to 35, including 12 who prepare export marketing plans for businesses that want to grow their international sales. All told, SBDC helped about 350 Florida businesses expand overseas last year, up from 215 in 2013.

One of the Florida SBDC Network's offerings is a customized export marketing plan available to eligible in-state manufacturers and service providers:

Qualifications

To qualify, a manufacturer's products must be made in Florida and contain at least 51% U.S. content. Qualifying businesses also must be at least 2 years old, employ five or more people full time and have $500,000 to $10 million in annual sales. New-to-export or infrequent exporters are preferred.

Getting Started

Qualified businesses meet with an international trade specialist to assess their export readiness, analyze the competitive landscape, identify the best overseas markets and create an action plan that may include trade mission participation.

Cost

An export marketing plan costs $3,500 to prepare, but qualifying businesses are eligible for a $3,000 scholarship provided by Enterprise Florida and the Florida SBDC Network, in partnership with the U.S. Commercial Service, making a company's actual cost $500.

 

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