International exports topic at Lafayette workshop

Experts tell hopefuls it’s a different world

Business owners and representatives listened intently Wednesday as experts in international markets outlined the rewards and perils of doing business in strange lands, where social and business customs are different.

The export training workshop at the Petroleum Club drew 16 participants eager to learn about international trade and the potential it presents to expand their businesses into markets where they can offer their products and services.

Stacey Feehan was there to see whether there might be any opportunities for Lafayette upstart video surveillance company 4th Dimension Global, which employs Feehan and three others.

Iraida Carrasco drove from Baton Rouge to see how her employer, 30-year-old Industrial Fabrics Inc., might tap into international markets.

International market experts such as Delilah DeSouza and Philippe Gustin provided guidance for those attending the workshop, helping to gauge whether their companies were ready for the challenges of doing business at an international level.

The workshop, termed Export 201, was a more advanced workshop delving deeper into selling goods and services beyond U.S. borders than one held in Abbeville in July. The Abbeville workshop concentrated on exporting south Louisiana’s seafood.

Wednesday’s participants of oilfield service companies, food specialists and others found out it’s a long, uphill trudge to go from export novice to money-making firm with an international reach and business associates worldwide.

“It takes a long time to develop some of these relationships,” said DeSouza, a senior international trade specialist with the U.S. & Foreign Commercial Services. DeSouza is based in New Orleans.

DeSouza, who has years of experience helping south Louisiana oil service companies go international, said small firms new to business outside U.S. borders should not try to do business with conglomerates, such as Brazilian oil company Petrobras, which has one of the hottest deepwater offshore oil and gas markets in the world.

“Brazil is a very difficult market,” she said. “You’d better have a lot of money. It’s not for the faint of heart.”

Businesses should start by studying the market where their product or products have the best chance of selling, then try to zero in on the best marketing representative they can get in that country.

There is plenty of information from the U.S. government about how to go about exporting. And there are government-sponsored trade shows where the costs to individuals and businesses are minimum and the networking opportunities wide.

The U.S. Commercial Service, the trade promotion arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, also can set up searches for reputable foreign business partners through its Gold Key Service. It also can set up one-on-one appointments with pre-screened distributors and oversee licensing or joint ventures.

“They can all have a gorgeous website, but they’re operating out the back of a truck,” DeSouza said.

Some of the workshop participants were unsure if it was worth the effort and money.

“I want to stick a toe in the water instead of jumping in,” said David Higginbotham, a seafood company owner. “I don’t want to spend money in a wild goose chase.”

Gustin, who runs Le Centre International de Lafayette, said the safest route for Higginbotham could be dipping his toe into a market such as Canada, whose people have culinary tastes and social mores similar to Americans.

Gustin and DeSouza said expanding a business’s reach is neither easy nor cheap.

“If you want to start an export company, you need time and money,” he said.

To dive into the world of exporting, go to U.S. Commercial Service International Trade Administration at trade.gov/cs/ or to the Louisiana Small Business Development Center at lsbdc.org/.

To make sure your company is not doing business with an international law-breaker, go to the Bureau of Industry & Security at www.bis.doc.gov.