In 1998, export sales was unfamiliar territory for Medical Resources.
Just one year made all the difference.
Now, the North Columbus company not only garners half of its sales from exporting but also has established an office in Saudi Arabia.
We will be operating in the entire Middle East marketplace very soon, says Randy Reichenbach, the companys general manager and winner of the SBAs district and state Small Business Exporter of the Year awards.
Reichenbach credits the medical equipment companys success in the exporting arena to two things.
First, Medical Resources had the ability to fulfill a need for its international customers, who likely found the company through its Web site.
I guess we were in the right place at the right time for developing countries looking to improve health care systems and looking to model it after the United States, Reichenbach says.
In fact, once the Web site went up, the company received many calls from potential international customers. That presented a problem, considering its employees had no experience doing business overseas.
We just sort of passed on it, Reichenbach says.
The more the requests flowed in, however, the more imperative it became that someone become knowledgeable on the topic.
That led to the second key to Medical Resources success in exporting, he says.
Reichenbach sought help from the Columbus Export Assistance Center, Columbus Chamber of Commerce, the states Department of Development, the Ohio Export Assistance Network and the International Division of The Huntington National Bank.
They made it possible that we could understand what customers needed in ways of financing and developing products in ways we could succeed, he says.
Reichenbach recognized the potential for medical equipment in the Middle East and opened an office in Jeddah under a joint venture arrangement. He also has done business in India, Turkey, Africa and South America.
Reichenbach declined to discuss sales figures but says he expects the 50 percent of business the company now receives from exporting to increase.
Heres what hes learned:
Language barriers are a challenge.
You have to be able to communicate and make sure that youre understood properly, that the customer truly understands what youre telling them, he says.
Luckily, he adds, English seems to be a universal language in his health care industry.
Know the rules and regulations.
The business laws, customs rules and taxes are different for every country, Reichenbach says.
Develop trust between your business and overseas clients.
Probably the only way that comes about is going over there and meeting with the customer and getting them to know you, and then inviting them over here to meet us also, he says, adding that his company wont get involved in a project unless the client visits Medical Resources.
Educate the customer.
Clients spend weeks with his company being trained on use and repair of the equipment they are buying.
They have to know how to handle it, otherwise theyre going to be a very unhappy customer, he says.
He suggests that entrepreneurs wanting to do business abroad be proactive in seeking education and get in touch with government bodies for help.
You have to have the product that works, too, he adds. You cant just be selling any product. It has to be in demand in that particular country.
Joan Slattery Wall (email@example.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.