Small Business Exporter Featured

9:57am EDT July 22, 2002

Walter Robertson Sr. knew in the early 1980s that the opportunity existed in Japan to sell the products made by his company, Hydro-Pac Inc. So he lined up a trading partner to take his products there.

As he puts it now, “They did a good job of trading, but not so good in customer service.”

So it goes in what became the beginning of a long but fruitful education for Robertson in exporting to the Far East and elsewhere. That effort is now responsible for between 25 percent and 40 percent of the Erie County company’s annual revenue.

Robertson started his company in 1972 and today employs 45, including the next generation of owners, sons Walter Jr. and Jason. The company designs and manufactures machinery that generates and controls high-pressure liquids such as nitrogen and carbon dioxide. The liquids are used in manufacturing processes that create gas-assisted injection molding and foam plastics, such as polystyrene cups.

Robertson first realized the demand for his devices when he took one product to Canada, where he displayed it at a trade show. Someone purchased the actual display.

Getting his products into Japan, however, proved more arduous. Robertson quickly realized that simply having a trading partner whose main interest was sales wouldn’t be enough for customers who needed after-sale assistance.

“The market really required an after-service organization,” he says in hindsight. “We couldn’t just rely on a trading company to service our customers.”

In 1987, Robertson decided to pursue the creation of a joint-venture company with a Japanese partner. With help from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Robertson’s company set up a new company in Japan that is 75 percent owned by Hydro-Pac. Several employees from Hydro-Pac then lived in Japan for upwards of four years to make sure the project would succeed.

“Japan was a tough market,” Robertson says. “They’re task masters, so we had to adapt our products to their rules and regulations.”

Today, the company also sells its products in Australia, Korea, India, Europe and Canada.

Says Robertson of his export efforts: “I’m absolutely proud to do so.”