Going The Distance

Allied Forces?

Carol Frank can attest to the dangers posed by foreign partnerships. The designer and distributor of bird cages has made mistakes along the way, like disclosing the addresses of her customers to one partner, who eventually tried to take their business away from her. But sometimes no amount of research or preparation can prevent your worst nightmare from materializing.

Since 1996, when Frank launched Dallas-based Avian Adventures, three partners in Mexico have proved untrustworthy. To summarize her string of bad luck: Partner No. 1 lied about owning a well-established family business and manufactured two truckloads of inferior cages before she let him go. Partner No. 2, an associate of the first, also manufactured mediocre products. Partner No. 3, whom she thoroughly researched and trusted the most, refused to sign a long-term contract and later copied her cage designs and began manufacturing replicas for her top competitor. The whole scenario cost Frank two vital commodities--time and money.

Undaunted, she's just forged a new relationship with Partner No. 4--also in Mexico--and they've created a cage design they think is superior to the one stolen from her. "There's a big part of me that just never [bows to failure]," she says. "I've got a real sense of survival."

That's often what it takes to succeed in unfamiliar or distant markets--in addition to certain preventive measures. For instance, there's no substitute for meeting potential partners in person or for checking their bank and customer references. And until you trust the potential partner's company completely, a letter of credit provides secure transactions. Federal agencies offer links to reputable businesses or at least let you know the reputations of the ones you intend to partner with. It's also important to have an attorney draw up rock-solid contracts, have at least one backup supplier, and, above all, trust your instincts.

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This article was originally published in the May 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Going The Distance.

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