MSBDC’s Massachusetts Export Center helps us by doing research that we
can’t do," observes Rob Potash [photo right], marketing
director of Stoughton-based CSMi, a leading designer
and manufacturer of human performance testing, rehabilitation, and
“Thanks to Ann Pieroway [Western Massachusetts Program Director of MSBDC’s Massachusetts Export Center], my business now generates 5-7% of its sales volume in Western Europe. Within the next three years, we expect those numbers to double,” observes Agawam entrepreneur Steven L. Graham (right). Graham owns Toner Plastics, which manufactures CraftLace™ (gimp) and which assembles a variety of children’s activity craft kits, sporting monikers like Poseable Pals, Natural Knots, and Noyds.
Before connecting with Pieroway in 1998, Graham had floundered for five years on the waiting list to display his wares at Nuremberg’s giant annual toy fair. “The Nuremberg Fair is to Europe what the annual February toy fair in New York is to the United States: if you want to win friends and influence people in the toy business, you exhibit there,” remarks Graham. Working with the Massachusetts Port Authority, Pieroway secured booth space at Nuremberg for Toner in 1999. Since then, the firm has returned each year. “With Massport, you exhibit first class,” observes Graham. “We had a very comfortable three square meter exhibition space; Massport negotiated the booth space and did all the leg work. They helped get accommodations for us right in Nuremberg [no mean feat] and helped us arrange transportation and shipping. They also got a translator for us and worked with us on multilingual product descriptions and packaging. Several months before this year’s fair, Ann alerted me to new labeling regulations. Without that heads-up, I might have had trouble exhibiting."
“Like much else in life, doing business in Europe comes with a learning curve. We’re now in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and the U.K.—every country has its own nuances in consumer tastes and distribution. In the United States you do business through distributors, wholesalers, and retailers. In Europe, almost all of my export contacts are with distributors.” Not so for importing and sourcing, he adds. “Quite unexpectedly, I met a manufacturer in Nuremberg from whom I’m directly sourcing hemp for some of my craft kits. I’m also discussing the prospect with a second European manufacturer of being their U.S. distributor for a line of wooden construction toys.
The Massachusetts Export Center had additional impact at Toner Plastics. Through the center, Graham attended a trade conference in Boston, where he learned some of the ropes of doing business with the European Economic Community and met Massport representatives assigned to various European countries. In the Spring of 2001, Pieroway assigned a student intern from Western New England College to help Graham pursue trade leads that he had obtained the previous February in Nuremberg. “I can’t emphasize enough how savvy, proactive, and congenial Ann has been,” remarks Graham. “Without her and the Massachusetts Export Center, we might still be on the Nuremberg Fair waiting list. Instead, we’re looking at sales in Western Europe that might soon equal 15% of our revenues.”
" During the past decade, Paula Murphy and the MSBDC's Massachusetts Export Center have been a critical resource for the export side of our business," observes Steve Zafron of NutraMax Products, Inc. Steve is manager of international sales with the Gloucester-based firm, which develops, manufactures, and markets over-the-counter health care and personal products. NutraMax product lines include cough drops and throat lozenges, adhesive bandages, medical gauzes and tapes, first aid kits, toothbrushes, dental floss and dental accessories, travel kits, dietary supplements, ready-to-use enemas, disposable douches, pediatric oral electrolyte maintenance solution, and disposable baby bottle liners. The firm-the largest employer in Gloucester-is a leading private label provider to America's supermarkets, drug stores, and mass merchandisers. It also markets its own products under specific control brands and manufactures and distributes products for strategic partners in consumer products and related industries.
Ten years ago, NutraMax had little overseas presence. Today, it sells products in seventeen countries (many of them in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East), which account for a growing profit stream. "With our diverse product lines in place domestically, leveraging them overseas made a lot of sense: our pricing was already highly competitive and many of our target countries had a great need for our products," notes Steve. " Mastering the details and nuances of international business, however, has been challenging. That's where the Export Center has been a critical resource," he emphasizes. " Over the years, the center has introduced us to freight forwarders, international distributors, and international brokers who send us leads. They've also helped us with the considerable compliance and other detail work that accompany exporting. Putting your tax ID number on invoices and your ID on shipping containers might seem obvious, but learning the ropes about these and other details from experienced counselors can move you much faster down the learning curve. I've attended free Export Center seminars on a variety of topics and have gotten fast answers to specific questions via a simple phone call to Paula or Kathleen Newell. " If, for example, I can't get through to officials in Taipei, Paula or Kathleen typically can."
A year and a half ago, the Export Center played a critical role of a different sort on Nutramax's behalf. Although the firm's products are freely sold in the United States, many countries that import them require accompanying certificates of resale from government authorities in the United States. When the Massachusetts Department of Public Health abruptly discontinued certifying all nonfood products (including Nutramax's exports), the firm was left without a government resale certifier. "I was in panic mode, because I couldn't find a suitable alternative. We could have used the FDA, but their turnaround times were too slow," Steve recalls. Instead, he turned to Paula Murphy at the Export Center, who joined forces with US Commercial Service's Jim Cox, and State Senator Bruce Tarr. Three months later, Nutramax had a new certifier, the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture, which offered a streamlined certification process. " Over the years, I've learned the ropes of exporting, but I know that I can always turn to Paula and Kathleen for information and during a crisis," observes Steve Zafron. "They are true champions of small manufacturers in this state."
SolarOne Solutions, Inc.
"About two years ago, we began getting inquiries about our solar-powered lighting systems from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates," recalls Moneer Azzam, President and CEO of SolarOne® Solutions, Inc. in Needham.
The United Arab Emirates, he continues, is becoming a hot spot both for innovative solar power and low-carbon energy innovation. “In a short time, we received so many inquiries that we urgently needed to find a business partner—the right partner—in the region to seize those opportunities.”
Azzam turned to the MSBDC’s Massachusetts Export Center, where Central Massachusetts Regional Director Julia Dvorko and her team generated a report evaluating potential business representatives in Dubai. “I met with a handful of them and chose Gargash Lighting Systems, a leading lighting company in the Gulf, based in Dubai,” he remarks.
For SolarOne the story only got better. The new partner helped secure a contract for SolarOne that made it a primary provider for roadway and parking lot streetlights in Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, the capital Emirate of the UAE. Masdar is touted as the world’s first zero-carbon footprint city. SolarOne’s system was selected after a sandstorm followed by several cloudy days knocked out the other solar powered lighting sources under evaluation. Only SolarOne’s self-contained lighting kept on shining.
Each SolarOne street lamp is a self-contained lighting system that is independent of electrical grids. Like cell phones, the lamps allow communities and regions without grids and related infrastructure to leapfrog that “stage” and associated costs of technological advancement. Ship a SolarOne streetlamp to Masdar (or to Haiti, where SolarOne recently sent lamps for disaster relief), install it in the ground, and it’s good to go.
The lamps employ efficient white LEDs that illuminate desired areas without spillover (i.e., wasted light) into undesired areas. Their reduced energy requirements (no secondary lenses) allow for smaller solar panels and need fewer batteries. That means lower cost. The entire system is regulated by the firm’s proprietary SO‑Bright® Technology, which uses tracking and algorithms to manage each fixture’s light output. That allows for adaptation to low-power input conditions, including cloudy days and sandstorms—like those encountered in Masdar.
An Enduring Relationship. SolarOne’s relationship with the Massachusetts Export Center goes back five years, when the center researched European market opportunities for the firm. “They’ve also helped us leverage U.S. government services and connections for a significant project in Mexico,” adds Azzam. “And they’ve trained some of our employees, showing them nuances of international contracts and other export issues and procedures.
More recently, the Massachusetts Export Center helped SolarOne do business in North Africa. It identified a business partner and helped the firm navigate tariff duties, which can have a significant bottom-line impact. Dvorko, notes Azzam, was able to swiftly identify national tariff rates for SolarOne’s product code. “She showed us how you can reduce a 30% tariff on equipment to 5% if you bundle it with other products,” he remarks. “The Export Center allows us, a small business, to enjoy some big-company resources. In that way, the Export Center helps us and other small companies to compete globally.”
When completed in four years, Masdar will have a population of 45,000 as well as 60,000 commuters associated with its 1,500 environmentally innovative businesses and university, Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. Zero-carbon infrastructure will include a solar power plant, widespread rooftop photovoltaic modules, wind farms, a solar-powered desalination plant, extensive wastewater recycling, and—eventually—the world’s largest hydrogen power plant.top