Expanding Your Global Exports

The Canadian marketplace is as tough a place to sell as anywhere in the developed world with small markets and conservative, cost conscious customers. If you can sell here you can sell anywhere, especially if you have a unique product. In my experience, foreign markets offer easier pickings if companies are willing to take the plunge and combine their Product Brand, with Canada’s National Brand plus a willingness to make the effort to get beyond our borders and sell.

I’m always amazed when I hear companies tell me that they sell only in Canada; especially if they have something unique to offer.  From my 35 years of experience selling tooling and machinery, my humble opinion is that the Canadian marketplace is so much tougher to crack than the U.S. market or other places around the world.  That’s because its small, its conservative, its cost conscious, and there is lots of competition.  In fact, I always tell people that selling in Canada is like army boot camp; if you can survive you have earned your stripes to sell your products anywhere in the world.

Perhaps an example from my own experience would help.  Years ago, the company I worked for, Ontario Die of Kitchener/Waterloo(www.odctooling.com), that had a factory in Montreal that was in a constant, dog-eat-dog battle for business from the local shoe industry.  Competition from other Montreal diemakers was intense, prices were ridiculously low, and customers had the upper hand and knew it.  One day I heard about a U.S. shoe manufacturer called Tru-Stitch footwear that was located in Malone New York, only 80 miles south of Montreal just across the border.  I learned that Tru-Stitch bought their dies from a U.S. die company 300 miles away in Boston!  I also learned that they made alot of handsewn moccasins which played right into a die technology that we had developed for Canadian shoemakers that I thought might interest them.

What did I do?  I immediately called them and was fortunate to speak with a very amiable shoe designer.  I briefly outlined our die technology and the close proximity of our Montreal plant.  She was excited and literally the following week, myself and our sales representative in Montreal were at their doorstep with samples and brochures to tour their factories, meet their people, and see how we could help them.  After only one meeting we knew this would be a win-win situation.  Tru-Stitch would benefit from faster deliveries, better service, and more advanced die technologies, and we would gain a high volume, profitable customer who was currently buying from a high priced U.S. diemaker rather than from one of our cutthroat Montreal competitors.  They became a mainstay of our Quebec business for years.

Wait a minute you are saying.  Can it be that easy!    Often the answer is yes.  I have many “Tru-Stitch” stories to tell from my career.  As a Canadian business the world can be your oyster if you have something unique to sell, are willing to make an effort and not be intimidated by foreign markets.   Just look at well known Canadian companies like Lululemon(Yoga Wear), Chariot Carriers(bicycle carriers), Research in Motion(no explanation needed I presume), Roots(handbags), Tilley Endurables(adventure travel wear),  Bombardier(trains and planes), Cirque de Soleil, and Four Seasons Hotels, all of whom sell their brands so successfully all over the world.  They are examples to be followed by all Canadian businesses large or small.

In my opinion, our global business footprint can only continue to get better in the wake of our world-beating winter Olympic games and Canada’s image for stability and honesty which has only improved  after the 2008 recession devastated so many other parts of the globe.(See my Own the Podium blog entry from May 2010).  Listen to what Macleans Magazine(www.macleans.ca) observed about the Canadian brand in a recent article entitled “Selling Canada”:

“If the recession moved Canada to centre stage

the Vancouver Olympics was the spotlight.  FutureBrand, a brand

consulting firm based out of New York ranks national brands

in an annual Country Brand Index.  From 12th place in 2006,

Canada moved up to second in 2008 and 2009, and reached the

coveted top spot last year.  FutureBrand attributed part of that rise

to the Games, which showed how competitive Canadians can be.

These are good themes for companies expanding abroad to keep in


My formula for export success boils down to this:


Finally, if you want to read more about other Canadian success stories as well as links to how to improve your export program I highly recommend HSBC bank’s excellent Business Without Borders website.  You can find it at www.bwob.ca.

About Steven Singer

After receiving a B.A. in Economics from University of Toronto and an Ivey M.B.A. from the University of Western Ontario, I worked for the IMEDE School of Management in Switzerland developing case studies in manufacturing management. Returning to Canada, I joined Ontario Die Company of Kitchener, eventually becoming V.P. of Sales and Marketing, responsible for expanding the sales of its specialty diecut tooling produced in its 2 Canadian and 4 U.S. factories. With technically superior products, a strong North American salesforce, and strategically located plants, we were able to successfully penetrate the U.S. and Mexican markets in a variety of end use categories including automotive trim, footwear, and packaging. After 14 years with Ontario Die I became a marketing consultant and taught a course at Wilfred Laurier on Starting Your Own Business. In 1988, I started a Sales Company, Singer Cutting Machinery Sales Ltd., representing equipment manufacturers from Canada, U.S. and Italy that supplied machinery to the same end use markets I was servicing previously for Ontario Die Company. For the next 20 years, I marketed and sold equipment solutions throughout North America and Mexico, emphasizing advanced quality products, a value added sales strategy, geographical diversification throughout North America and Mexico, close customer relationships, and continual product innovation. These past 35 years of face to face contact with hundreds of North American factories and their management, has provided me a real life storehouse of manufacturing strategies and experiences that helped me formulate some of the ideas that I will be sharing in my blog. This experience also gave me an acute appreciation for the tremendous value that the manufacturing sector creates not only for its employees, customers, and suppliers but the wider community. It is my view that a society in the long term will only be as healthy as its manufacturing sector, notwithstanding economic pundits who believe that our evolution to a service economy is both inevitable and to be desired. Hopefully, my blog, which will center on creative marketing strategies that both small and large manufacturers can use to not only survive but prosper, will help in a small way to turn around the declines we have seen in our manufacturing sector over the past decade. Finally, I have lived in Waterloo since 1973, have a wife and 3 grown children(one of whom is a jewelry manufacturer I am proud to say), continue to do volunteer work coaching Special Olympic Basketball and helping our Neighbourhood Association, and have an interest in alternative energy technologies. I look forward in getting to know you through my blog.


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