Going Global

Choosing a Distributor

Once you've identified a target market, you'll need to determine how best to sell and deliver your product.

If you handle your own distribution, you'll be responsible for marketing and shipping your product, contacting foreign buyers directly, processing your own paperwork, and making sure you get paid. It's an approach recommended only for more experienced exporters.

Your other option is to deal with your foreign customers through an intermediary, such as a foreign sales representative or distributor, who works on commission and is under contract for a specified amount of time. You can find one by attending trade shows, talking with other exporters, or contacting your state Department of Commerce for leads. Such arrangements offer you the benefit of the intermediary's established relationships with foreign buyers, but you need to enter such arrangements carefully. Be cautious about signing an exclusive agreement. If you're going to be locked into a long-term contract, you want it to be with a good distributor; ask for a list of other exporters he represents, then review his track record with them, as well as his experience in selling products similar to yours.

Another type of intermediary resource is an export management firm, like Baird's, which also helps manufacturers ship their products to Japan, distribute purchase orders, and make payments in American dollars for products sold. Baird's counterpart in Tokyo is responsible for building relationships with Japanese customers, taking orders, and making payments in yen. Together, they handle customs procedures and other paperwork. "We try to make it as easy as possible for buyers and sellers," Baird explains. "Japanese buyers can call and speak with someone in their time zone who knows their language. U.S. manufacturers here can do the same."

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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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