Going Global

Exploring Foreign Markets

"Foreign buyers are very interested in U.S. products. They carry a certain panache," says Peggy Baird, co-founder of American Image Group, a firm in Cambridge, Ohio, which helps U.S. manufacturers sell to Japanese retailers. "But your product must have proven demand in the foreign market you're pursuing."

One way to find out if that demand exists is by showing your product at a trade show. "Foreign buyers attend domestic trade shows," says Baird. "They'll tell you if they have an interest in your product. They're savvy about their exchange rates and can tell you immediately if your product is priced competitively for their market."

You also need to make sure your American-made product fits your foreign buyer's body size, housing needs or lifestyle. For example, hair dryers, television sets and other types of American-made equipment that operate on 110-volt and 60-cycle current will work in Canada but not in Japan and Europe, where electrical equipment operates on different voltages and cycles. Product quality is another key consideration. An item that chips, fades, shrinks or doesn't operate properly won't be accepted in foreign markets. Some foreign buyers won't accept a product with even the slightest imperfection.

Once you've tested your product for marketability, consider how you will ship it overseas. Also, assess your production capacity to ensure you can adequately respond to a large foreign order.

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This article was originally published in the November 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Going Global.

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