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June 20, 2018

International Business

Stronger International Markets Buoying Florida

Still, challenges remain.

Mike Vogel | 11/1/2009

? Exporting

Sizzling Overseas

Through the internet, Jerry Pierce has built a sizable restaurant equipment exporting business from Orlando. But like any good salesman, success comes down to personal contact for him — and storytelling. Just get him going about his days in the printing industry when he landed the job printing 6.5 million Farrah Fawcett posters that became the ubiquitous wall decor in teen boy bedrooms. "There’s a lot of people who have opportunity in front of them and don’t seize it," Pierce says.

Jerry E. Pierce
Jerry E. Pierce
Restaurant Equipment World / Chairman / Orlando
[Photo: Sándor Fizli]
He’s had a hold on cooking equipment opportunity since 1976, when he began selling restaurant gear in Ohio. Several years later, he read "MegaTrends," realized he was in the wrong state and moved to Florida. Early on, international business meant the Telex and static-filled phone calls. Now, he has Skype and e-mail. He has done so well internationally that when a customer wants a pizza oven in Melbourne, he has to ask whether the customer means Melbourne in Brevard County or Melbourne, Australia. His 50-employee company has sold equipment in more than 100 countries from more than 185 websites devoted to everything from waffle irons to panini grills. He won’t disclose revenue.

"To me, it’s as much a technology business as an equipment business," says Mario Fidanzi, director of Stetson University’s Family Enterprise Center. (Pierce chairs the center advisory board.) "It’s a story of continuous reinvention."

 Booming international sales are offsetting a sluggish domestic market.

International sales, which account for 25% to 30% of his business, are the only reason Pierce has a cheerful outlook at present. "Skyrocketing," he says. "We currently have a sizable order in Dubai that came out of the blue." If his business was solely domestic, "I would be extremely negative," he says. Demand is down, and he says measures proposed in Congress and by the Obama administration treat small businesses — his customer base — as unlimited "cash machines." Says Pierce, 68, "We need to focus on helping companies grow."

Pierce’s son, Brad, runs the company day to day. One daughter, Patty Nuzzo, is a vice president while another, Barbie Boyd, does marketing part time. Pierce himself spends more time volunteering with the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which named him "Small Business Champion of the Year" in 2006. His civic work includes past-president of a veteran’s group — he was a 1st lieutenant in Korea — that successfully pushed for a new Veterans Administration hospital for Orlando and chairman of another group that wants to build a Veterans Memorial Park.

He’s still active at Restaurant Equipment World, however, and still believes in sales truisms and people-to-people contact. His company depends on the internet, but all phones are answered by a person. "It’s high tech and high touch combined together," he says. "It’s also a lot of personal selling."

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