- Table of Contents
- Full Issue in PDF
- United States, Asia-Pacific Partners Look at Ways of Fostering Trade and Economic Growth
- Exporting with a Warm Touch
- Online Tool Makes Search for Tariff Information Simpler
- ITA Win: Export Success-Lighting the Way to More Exports
- Short Takes
- Trade Calendar
- Featured Trade Event: Executive-Led Water and Wastewater Industry Trade Mission to Australia
- World Trade Week 2014
- World Trade Month 2013
- World Trade Week 2012
- National Export Initiative Anniversary
Exporting, With a Warm Touch
Sharon Kay Doherty, founder and president of Vellus Products. She has this advice for small businesses considering exporting, “If you have a product and it works, there is a place for you in the international marketplace.” (photo courtesy Vellus Products)
For a small manufacturer of pet care products, the personal touch can go a long way to ensuring payment and to gaining repeat sales. It’s all part of an export strategy that depends on a warm touch.
Exporting can be a daunting prospect for a smaller company. But with the help of many resources, including the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service, and determination on the part of its management, one small exporter—Vellus Products, an Ohio-based manufacturer of pet grooming products—has succeeded in breaking out from passive exporting to being actively engaged in overseas sales. Today, Vellus has distributors in 34 countries and a nearly 20-year track record of export success. Doug Barry of the Trade Information Center recently spoke with Sharon Kay Doherty, Vellus’s founder and president, from the company’s offices in Columbus, Ohio.
Barry: As the owner of a pet cosmetics company, do you have the antidote for a bad fur day?
Doherty: Yes, we do! The idea with Vellus Products is to glamorize pets with skin-safe products. So you’re right. We are not just for show dogs, which is our target market, but also for any pampered pet. We don’t want anybody to have a bad fur day in the canine world … nor in the cat world.
Barry: And in the human world too?
Doherty: Well, we don’t advertise that, but I will tell you that my family does use our products, because we know that there’s nothing in them that would harm us. They are high-end, quality products.
Barry: You’re located in Columbus, Ohio, which has been hard hit in these economic times. But you have managed to create this manufacturing company and fearlessly launch sales in a number of countries. Can you tell us how that happened?
Doherty: We started exporting in 1993. A Taiwanese businessman heard about us through the dog show network and wanted to buy about $25,000 worth of our products. But our company was new then, and we had never exported before. We had to quickly become knowledgeable, which we did with the help of the U.S. Export Assistance Center in Cincinnati. And that was the beginning of it. If you have a good product in this market that we’re in—the dog show network—word travels fast.
For More Information
Is your company thinking of expanding overseas? The network of more than 100 U.S. Export Assistance Centers (USEACs) located around the country can help. To locate the one nearest you, visit Export.gov, the U.S. government’s export portal. Aside from links to USEACs, the Web site also includes online tutorials, listings of upcoming trade events, and much more. Visit www.export.gov or call the Trade Information Center at 1-800-USA-TRAD(E) (1-800-872-8723).
Barry: One of the reasons often heard for not going international is that it is too complicated and that if a company already has a nice market niche in the United States, why bother? Did that rationale affect you in 1993?
Doherty: There are a lot of good products on the U.S. market that don’t go overseas because their U.S. producers are a little bit afraid. For example, I know businesspeople who feel that the possibility of not getting paid makes the entire exporting venture not worth the risk. But we have never had a problem. We’ve never done letters of credit, and everything that leaves our plant is prepaid. Then we ship it out.
Barry: What has been the key to your success in this area?
Doherty: Well, aside from having a good product, I really believe that doing business overseas is a model of building relationships. In this economy, it is not the time to do what I call “cold” business. Everything has to be a “warm” business.
Barry: What do you mean by a “warm” business?
Doherty: Well, “warm” business is my way of saying that customers will have someone whom they can contact—someone who is going to help them and will back them up. It’s more of a warmer-feeling business when buyers feel they have a friend. They have a support system: it’s this person, this is her name, and she can be contacted at any time because she’s given us all her phone numbers. For us, as a smaller manufacturing company, it is either my daughter, Terry, or me who is that person. When we take on a distributor or client, we welcome them into the family.
Barry: So smaller companies can compete in the world market?
Doherty: Yes. Procter & Gamble and major companies like that—they’re big businesses with one staff person doing this and another one doing that. And that’s okay. We need the big businesses too. But small businesses are losing out if they think that they can’t export as well. All it takes is a good product. If you have a product and it works, there is a place for you in the international marketplace.
Barry: Can you tell us how many countries you are exporting to today?
Doherty: We have distributors in 34 countries and are in discussion with several more.
Barry: Are these one-off sales—that is, you sell a couple bottles and then move on to the next market or customer and never go back? Or are you doing repeat sales in most of those country markets?
Doherty: Oh, repeat sales, absolutely. And if a distributor orders once and I don’t hear from them again, they hear from me. Not in a bad way, but—as I explained before—in a warm way. I’ll want to know if there is anything we can do for them. I’ll explain that I want to touch base with them and that maybe we were thinking about running an ad featuring one of their customer’s champion dogs or something along those lines.
Barry: Do you have any overseas expansion plans?
Doherty: We’re talking now with potential distributors in the Dominican Republic and Ecuador. In Brazil, we just now have a contract. And we are also still speaking to an Israeli distributor. I’m very interested in seeing our products in Israel [since] they do show dogs there. But we take our time. The distributors don’t feel any pressure. And they really have to want to do this. I have to know that they really want to do this.
Barry: You warned me that you had a couple of parrots that might get in the way of our conversation. Can you tell us a little bit about them and what makes them special?
Doherty: We have five parrots: a couple of Amazons, a rose-breasted cockatoo, an African grey, and a cherry-headed conure. And they sing. Oh my goodness, they sing! We have one bird that sings, “Oh, what a beautiful morning, Oh, what a beautiful day.”
Barry: And do they use Vellus’s shampoo?
Doherty: No, no … they get sprayed with water every other day.
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