Exporting Lessons

Douglas Smith, the president and CEO of Hawaiian Island Shine, was fortunate that when local sales began to slump because of the recession, his export business began to takeoff. His car-care products are now sold in six countries and he hopes to add Australia to that list next year.

Q: What should you know before trying to sell your products or services overseas?
Understand the costs that are involved – tariffs, shipping and other taxes. Do your homework and know the prices of your landed goods in another country. Just because something sells for $1 here doesn’t mean it won’t cost $3 or $4 someplace else once all the costs are factored in. Figure out that stuff early so you can make changes that will work for you and the customer. You might have to re-brand or rethink your product to make it more marketable.

Q: Are there many opportunities for local companies to export?
If you can sell the Hawaii name or anything that has a strong connection to Hawaii, such as Kona coffee or macadamia nuts, do it because people abroad love things that are exotic. Buyers are looking for something that’s marketable and the Hawaii brand does sell. The Hawaii brand is synonymous with quality, as opposed to Mexico or some other places, so that’s another advantage.

Q: How do you handle overseas marketing?
Dumping a whole bunch of money into marketing doesn’t necessarily work best. The best thing to do is to sign up for in-store marketing programs and trust the people you’re working with locally because they know the business there better than you. Get a distributor and a marketing company to take care of your overseas needs and help get your foot in the door.

Q: High shipping costs are a big challenge for many small business owners. Are there ways to reduce some of those expenses?
If you have a product that can be made cheaper on the Mainland, do it there, because any buyer knows that if you’re making product on the Mainland and then shipping it to Hawaii before you can fill orders to other countries, that’ll drive the cost up significantly. With the price of oil continuing to rise, your shipping costs will never be fixed; they’ll only get higher.


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