Exports part of strategy for two BR businesses

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Tony Thomas, shipping supervisor at Diesel Specialists on South Choctaw Drive in Baton Rouge, loads a plastic pallet with cylinder heads before shipping them to a customer. More than half of the company's annual revenue comes from overseas customers.
Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Tony Thomas, shipping supervisor at Diesel Specialists on South Choctaw Drive in Baton Rouge, loads a plastic pallet with cylinder heads before shipping them to a customer. More than half of the company's annual revenue comes from overseas customers.

For Diesel Specialists, using the Internet to reach out to potential clients in Mexico, Russia, Nigeria or Dubai is the same as trying to get any other customer.

“There’s no difference selling to someone down the street than there is selling globally, as long as you take advantage of the Internet,” said Whit Kellam, president of the South Choctaw Drive shop, which rebuilds diesel engines and sells parts.

When Diesel Specialists started about 10 years ago, Kellam said reaching out to customers outside Louisiana “came from necessity. We’re down on the Gulf, so we have to cast a wider net,” he said.

Going after foreign business just grew from the desire of wanting to get more customers, Kellam said.

Diesel Specialists did a little under $10 million in annual revenue in 2012, with 50 to 60 percent coming from international customers. The company has 46 employees.

The keys to exporting are customer service and communications.

“A company may shoot out 20 request for quotes in 10 minutes,” Kellam said. “We want to be the first to come back to them and say we’re working on a price.”

Reassuring potential clients is also crucial.

“Think about a company in Russia that wants to buy $100,000 worth of parts for a generator plant. We’re asking them to wire us a 50 percent deposit. If you’re about to send $50,000 to a company overseas, it’s incredibly important to be more professional and communicate better,” Kellam said.

At Xenetech Global, a Baton Rouge business that manufactures computerized and laser engraving machines, selling to overseas customers was part of the company’s strategic plan since it started in the late 1980s.

But Guy S. Barone Jr., president and CEO, said the international markets became more important a few years ago when the national economy took a downturn.

“What really ignited it for us was in the early 2000s, when we attended a seminar at the Port of Greater Baton Rouge that was sponsored by the port, the District Export Council and the chamber,” Barone said. “That gave us a lot of information.”

Xenetech does just under $5 million in annual sales and about a third of that comes from overseas.

“A lot of companies stopped buying capital equipment during the recession, so international business became an important part,” Barone said.

Barone said the company’s revenues in the first quarter of the year were up 49 percent over 2012, and much of the credit goes to increased exports.

Brazil, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have been good markets for Xenetech. The company’s engraving machines are used for everything from marking tags to producing jewelry.

“Exporting has been very positive for us on many levels,” Barone said. “Taking an order, giving support, accepting wire transfers, it’s fun and we have developed lifelong relationships.”

While there has been a greater emphasis from the White House over the past few years to increase the number of small businesses that are exporting goods and services, Barone said it has been a “two-edged sword.”

“Bush and Obama were both trying to get exports up,” he said. “But on the same side, budget issues have been so tight, there has been difficulty in keeping federal offices open that work on exports.”