ExporTech Program Strengthens Murray Corporation's Export Strategy
ExporTech Program Strengthens Murray Corporation’s Export Strategy
This episode of Export Nation is part of a series that highlights the ExporTech program, a joint effort between the U.S. Commercial Service and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) to accelerate the growth of export ready manufacturers via the development of a structured export strategy.
Company Information: Murray Corporation - www.murraycorp.com
Office: U.S. Commercial Service Baltimore
Senior International Trade Specialist: Brendan Kelly - Jolanta.Coffey@trade.gov
ExporTech Program Information - www.nist.gov/exportech
Speakers: Derrick Small | Jose Alonso | Jolanta Coffey
[00:00:02] Derrick Small: This episode of Export Nation is part of a series that highlights the ExporTech program, a joint effort between the U.S. Commercial Service and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) to accelerate the growth of export ready manufacturers via the development of a structured export strategy. MEP is a program within the U.S. Department of Commerce, focused on helping small and medium-sized manufacturers with business services in every U.S. state and Puerto Rico.
Good morning. Thank you for joining. Truly appreciate you taking the time to talk to us today about your company, and about export successes, and your journey with the commercial service and ExporTech program. Jose, welcome to the show. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about yourself?
[00:01:06] Jose Alonzo: Absolutely. Thank you so much. About myself, I can tell you I have been in the international market for about 35 years. I think I’m a fixed asset of any corporation that is doing international business, always in business development or sales.
[00:01:27] Derrick: Perfect. How did you start your journey with the US Commercial Service?
[00:01:32] Jose: This was when originally I was in my previous company, I met Jolanta. She help us for many years working, developing new business and international market. When I joined Murray Corporation, which has been three years, I contacted her immediately, and we started talking about the needs that we were trying to address. We’re trying to enhance our distribution network. Jolanta gave me a couple of ideas and as well as also information about networking institutions that we can partner with and start developing sales.
Last October, she also introduced me to ExporTech, and she gave me a nice explanation of the benefits of the curriculum of the course itself. Then she sent me a really nice presentation about it. I introduce her internally at Murray, and we realized this is great. This is great to attend. My VP of sales, and myself, we both attended ExporTech.
[00:02:35] Derrick: The company felt that there was a need for some sort of export plan, is that accurate to say?
[00:02:43] Jose: In a way, yes. Basically, we had a strategy that we have tailored. However, and this important to remind for everybody, sometimes due to the day-to-day activities, you start doing what needs to be done, to keep things going. The main goal is always to develop sales and make sure that you increase your network of customers, but you forget about your strategy in everything that you are trying to do. ExporTech give us the tool to say okay, guys, you know what? Let’s stop. Let’s rethink this for a moment.
We realized that one of the things that we haven’t done in a while is revise our vision, our mission, revise our value proposition to our customers. We said, you know what, we need to tailor one and then talk to customers and make sure that they do understand, they feel and they think that it’s going to be valuable for them. Then we can start developing business, and that has been a key I will say component that is valuable.
We look back, we say, something so basic that we forget. It’s like my grandfather always used to say when somebody was using a hammer. He used to say, “Make sure that you have a nail in there,” because sometimes you are hitting with a hammer, but there is no nail, so what are you doing? That’s what ExporTech was to us. That was the nail. Okay, now we can go with the hammer and go full force.
[00:04:16] Derrick: That’s a very good metaphor. I love that. [laughs] Jolanta, tell us a little bit about yourself, and then maybe you could go into a little bit more about what the ExporTech program is about and how you use it in your office.
[00:04:34] Jolanta Coffey: I’m Jolanta Coffey, and I am the US Commercial Service Office in Baltimore, Maryland. I have been with the commercial service since 2004, and always in Baltimore, with Commerce Department since 1999, which is a long time. When I came to commercial service in Baltimore, I was given the environmental industry and some of the manufacturing industries to work as my portfolio and Murray fell right into my lap, per se. I have been working with the company in one way or another since then, since 2004.
Jose has just been great to work with. He’s very enthusiastic, and I love the fact that he gives me so much credit, more than I deserve, but Murray, definitely has their stuff together and now even more so after ExporTech.
[00:05:44] Derrick: When do you generally recommend a company attend the ExporTech program?
[00:05:52] Jolanta: I would say it depends. We have been doing ExporTech in Maryland since its inception, in 2006, 2007. When we first started, we had companies that were very advanced in their ExporTech journey, or exporting journey, and also companies that were just starting out. An excellent candidate for ExporTech is one who knows what they are selling, they know their product, they understand their value, their use, their market, they know who their customer would be, and a company who is either trying to expand into the international market, reach new areas, new countries, maybe even reach a new industry that they haven’t been selling to, or a company who’s been extremely successful in the domestic sector, and now would like to go into overseas sales. It depends.
[00:07:03] Derrick: Perfect. Jose, so back to you. In terms of lessons learned from the program, what were the takeaways?
[00:07:11] Jose: Many things come to mind regarding that question. I can tell you, I think the main one was to utilize better our resources. During the length of the courses we’ve had with ExporTech, we realized that there were so many tools that we have not used before of, even though we know they are there, but we forgot to use them. Once again, going back to the point of focus so much into going forward versus stopping, think about it, and try to utilize those resources. For example, during one of the early chapters of ExporTech was about, hey, let’s review your value proposition. We had a judge of panels, as well as consultants, that were with the class, and they were more than welcome to do brainstorm sessions with us.
We spend time on the phone, revising our value proposition, and they were very candid and provide positive feedback and also criticism. I remember very clearly one day Jolanta told me, “Jose, If there’s an elevator pitch, how tall is the elevator, because man you are going over.
Jose: The attention span, when you talk to somebody, you need to be quick, to the point, and remember his value proposition. It has to resonate with them, and cause them to be intrigued about what you’re selling, so they can continue talking to you, right, otherwise you can lose the customer or that prospect. I have to say, all those tips that once again, you forget sometimes to go after that.
I have to say one of the consultants, Richard Rogers was so helpful also. After the ExporTech he said, “Hey, I’m available. Call me when you have questions, when you want to brainstorm or bounce ideas.” We just reach out and talk a couple of things. Say, what do you do in this case? What are your experience on that? I think the tools that are available, that are provided by the US Commercial Service, and the people that are in charge of ExporTech was I think, one of the greatest lessons that we have learned. Hey, let’s use those tools. Are free, are available, and it’s a lot of experience that you can count on.
[00:09:29] Derrick: Got you. Jolanta, just real quick. I showed up to an ExporTech program, I think for three days when I first got started here, just to get to know different things that we did as an organization. Is it three days or two weeks? How long is the program exactly?
[00:09:48] Jolanta: The answer is yes.
Jolanta: The reason it’s yes, is because this new way of experiencing life in 2020 has really shed a light on the abilities that we have via the Internet. Before 2020, ExporTech was a three months long program, where the companies or students, the companies participating in the program would show up one day a month in person in a classroom setting program. Three months, three days, and in the third session, the last day, they would present their ExporTech plan to a panel of reviewers, who is the district Export Council and I can explain that in a little bit.
Since the pandemic happened, we were already planning the ExporTech and we couldn’t do it in person anymore. We have some really talented staff in our Baltimore office who figured out how to use our tools at our disposal, our own tools, as Jose said, things that are available to us, we have to remember to use them. We had our ExporTech this year online, 100% online video. It was an intense program because it was no longer one day a month for three months, it was twice a week. In our case we chose Tuesday and Friday, so twice a week, for two months and we chunked it out in two-hour increments, so that everyone could still go back and do their work, but then come back again. If you think about it in a three-month program, we would take about eight hours per day. We divided those hours out and it turned out to be that we had 12 sessions. It worked out but the answer is yes.
[00:12:19] Derrick: Which one did you look better?
[00:12:20 Jolanta: If I had my ideal choosing, and I think once we get back to our new normal, this will be the new thing that we’ll try in Baltimore. We will combine the both. We found that it just opened up the possibility of who you could have on agenda and the possibility of the companies that can join us. They don’t have to be it within driving distance to come and participate in our program. We’ll do both. I think there is tremendous value in both.
[00:13:00] Derrick: Sounds good. Well, thank you. Jose, what services does your company? Or how do you use the commercial service?
[00:13:10] Jose: Oh, sure. We have used mainly for networking, that’s part one of the main I will say activities that we have follow. They are grants that the state of Maryland allow us to use to contact our in country organizations that provide to you with information of who is doing what in your industry. They give you market intelligence, they also help you with the political environment and also the economical environment of the country that you are developing.
Also they diversify into the vertical as well as the I will say that the industries are we’re trying to attack, providing you information, make your contacts with those companies that you’re interested in, either to sell the product to them directly or to work with them as distributors.
In my case, we’re very focused on the distribution networking of our product and by the way, I want to if you allow me to, I think that I forgot to mention, so who are we and what we do. More as a manufacturer based in Hunt Valley, Maryland, and we have been in business for over 50 years. We manufacture and sell industrial hose clamps. These units are used for fluid and gas transfer systems. It’s a very wide- I will said our range of customers in industry that we can work with goes into the automotive, into the irrigation, agriculture, into hospitality, different markets that you can imagine so everybody that needs a hose to transfer any type of liquid or gas systems they need Murray.
[00:14:45] Derrick: Got you. Okay, good. Good to know. What countries are you in? If you’re able to talk about it, if you’re not, don’t worry about it.
[00:14:52] Jose: Sure, not a problem. We are a worldwide corporation. I would say the lowest markets that we have right now is Asia and Africa. We have a little bit of contact in Africa, a little bit of I will say, developing business over there. Asia is a bit harder because the whole economical, I will say the spectrum is not favorable to buy from the US, although we have some successes in Taiwan. At this point, our stronger markets internationally are the Americas, which goes from Canada all the way to Chile and also Europe. Those are the strongest, I will say our market that we participate. Every single country in Europe has a distribution for Murray products, as well as Latin America.
[00:15:39] Derrick: Did some of this come from your ExporTech plan?
[00:15:44] Jose: Oh, absolutely. Yes. I’m so glad that you asked that question because it’s speaking about our value proposition. We started using that the moment that we finish the course. I start talking to customers, in being able to do that toss to say, look, this is what we’ll bring to the market. This is who we are, this is what we do. What we do is we provide you with leak-free connections, fast response time, on-time delivery, short lead times, engineering support.
We are also a partner that provide to you custom-tailored solutions to your needs. The post, “Will this be something that you will be interested in Mr. Customer?” Let them talk and let them tell us yet tell me more about your value proposition. Tell me more about this, because this is what I am looking for.
Based on that fundamental, our introduction, who we are, we start talking to customers, and we develop two new customers right out of ExporTech. This is just something that we went “Wow, this was one was in the Dominican Republic, the other one’s in the Caribbean region.” We have done almost $14,000 with them, and due to the nature of our business customers do not order monthly, they do quarterly orders because the product itself is heavy, at the same time, the value of it is not that big so they order quarterly to bring to the restock and resell. We hope that both companies will do around $48,000 in business, brand new business with us from here till the end of 2021.
[00:17:19] Jolanta: If I can add to that, Murray Corporation, Jose was the first company to report a sale right after ExporTech.
[00:17:28] Derrick: Oh, wow. To follow, Jolanta, do you feel like it’s easier to work with companies who take the chance- or not take the chance, but maybe the investment to go through the program? Do you feel like it helps things because there’s a deeper understanding that comes from having gone through ExporTech?
[00:17:49] Jolanta: Yes. 100% yes, because the agenda that set forth for ExporTech is very vigorous and when we are promoting the program to our companies that we work with, we always say you’re going to be very tired at the end of your session, because it’s a flood of information but the information is important.
Additionally, the ExporTech agenda is tailored to each company that participates. In Murray’s case, they are a manufacturing company. They have different needs than a service company would. They need to know things about freight forwarding and insurance and what happens if the boat loses your stuff that you’re shipping to Europe, where a service company doesn’t need to know that. They need some other type of information. When it comes point to that part of agenda, the companies are split up, and they do receive their own tailored information that they need.
On top of that, the ExporTech program in Baltimore, the way we do it, each company receives two coaches. You get the US export assistance coach. In our case, it was me, for Murray, they got stuck with me and also received a district export council coach, and the Deck are it’s a fantastic group. They are a bunch of people who know exporting inside and out in a particular expertise or industry or something that’s needed for exporting and then they volunteer their time back to help other companies not make the same mistakes that they made or just help them through. It’s like a support system.
You get these two coaches and both of the coaches are working together to help this company accomplish whatever goal that they set out to do while signing up for ExporTech. After the company goes through ExporTech, and we don’t drop them, we don’t say, “Okay, you did the program now, good luck.”
Jolanta: ”Call me later.” We don’t do that. We stay with them. By then we’re good friends and the company has a much better appreciation for the different topics and even the questions to ask, things to consider when they’re exporting. Yes, I find that it’s much easier and, I would say, faster to get the message across to just figure out what the company needs in order to sell or find a partner that they need, or get the market information that’s correct, or even figure out the administrative tasks that need to be done in order to transition, let’s say, from France to Japan, which are completely different economies and clientele.
[00:21:10] Derrick: Okay, well, thank you. Jose, I don’t know if we touched on— How much of your sales of Murray Corporation sales come from exporting?
[00:21:20] Jose: I will say we are 30% of the total revenues of Murray as a whole. 30%, I will say actually, to be at more exact, it’s around 28%, which we’re not even a third yet of the sales revenue of the company. That is a personnel challenge for me. I want to grow. I would like to for 2021, hopefully, to do 30% to 32%, and the following year, I will reach up to 40% of their sales revenue of Murray will be, internationally. To do so, our interest is to increase the network of distributors that we have.
What I have done is divided our network of distributors in vertical markets. One is going to be the automotive and heavy-duty transport equipment. The other one is going to be the hose manufacturing equipment. The other one will be like a miscellaneous type of applications. We’re going to try to find additional distributors for each one of these markets in every country.
In some countries like Mexico, for example, we understand that the need might be for two of them on three regions because we’re going to split Mexico in three regions. One is an area, the northern part of Mexico, where we just learned through ExporTech, just by doing research, that over there is mainly OEMs that are building our automobiles and truck equipments, etcetera. Those guys want to work directly with a manufacturer like Murray. In other parts of the country, they need distribution, they are a small, you know, a tractor repair type of companies that they would like to buy our product, but they need a distributor. That is what we’re putting ourselves, I would say looking for organize ourselves that way. In fact, that will also translate into additional sales for us.
[00:23:22] Derrick: Nice.
[00:23:23] Jolanta: That means I’m going to be busy, Jose? Is that what you’re saying?
[00:23:24] Jose: That is correct, exactly. Exactly.
[00:23:28] Derrick: Nearly 30% is pretty significant amount of sales, I would say. With that much international sales, you must have faced some hurdles, are you able to talk about any challenges you had to overcome?
[00:23:43] Jose: Sure, thank you so much for bringing that to that point because it’s interesting to see sometimes. I have been with Murray with two and a half years. When I look back, I realized what was one of the problems that we had before. I think one of the problems that we had before was that the market itself was very aggressive because these days, everybody makes our products, everybody, especially in the Asian market. The price is the factor. Everybody’s looking for the lowest price.
It was the point where we try to do to make a definition into, “Are we going to really play the price game or we’re going to let some business go in look for partners, look for people that will like to buy a product that is high quality, that will have the delivery time that they are looking for? Someone that can accommodate your need as a customer. If you need 90 days of credit term, we’ll try to tailor that for you. If you need to maybe work on a leasing program, well, let’s talk about the opportunity and let’s see how can we accommodate that for you.”
With all those values or benefits that we’re bringing to these customers, they realize, ” Okay, so price is out the window now. That justify that you guys have not the lowest price, you are a better value.” I think that was the hardest, I will say, challenge, was to try to find partners that will be interested in that type of proposition because even customers that were working with us, they were telling, “Oh, no, no. To me, it’s just price. Price, price price, and price.” But the issue was, and sometimes they will tell you, “Look, I have 20,000 40,000 50,000 and I’m ready to sign the PO, but what about the price?” Of course, the margins were just incredible.
They were trying to play the price game, trying to compare me to somebody in Asia where there is no customer service, et cetera. I was saying, “Mr. customer,” with tears in my eyes, I will say, “No. This is my price and if you’re willing to pay, we’ll do business. If not, we’re not the right partner for you.” We did let some customers go, interestingly enough, it was hard. You can imagine it was our bad at the same time. The ones that we kept, they are customers or distributors that they do understand our value proposition, and they are with it.
When they talk to customers, they tell them, “No, this is the reason why we’re not the lowest price. Mr. customer, look at the finishing of our unit. Look how quick we deliver. You say that two units were defective, who was the first one to send you a replacement in 72 hours? That’s why our unit is the lowest price.” Once again, to carry that message, to prove and to make sure that they believe in it, it takes a while. Trust and all that is whole process, but I looking back when I would say, “You know what? We did it, we have turned around ourselves to move away from price into a great value. We’re a provider now of value to our customers.
[00:26:44] Derrick: Jolanta,` do you see that as one of the challenges that a lot of companies from the US face [ ] you know that sort of quality versus price proposition? Or are there other factors that you think are more weighing than that?
[00:27:04] Jolanta: For products that are in abundance, if you will, where there’s lots of companies that make the same thing, the challenge is how do you differentiate yourself? What makes you better than your competitor? Why should company ABC buy from you versus the other person down the street? Companies struggle with figuring it out, “What’s my niche? Why am I better?” For those that do not figure that out, they suffer, but like in Murray’s case, they figured it out. It was interesting to watch the process when they were doing the elevator pitch. Something that’s so simple. Yet, you have to have only a few seconds, maybe a minute to tell somebody what it is that you sell, and what’s so great about you. That’s why Jose was joking that I asked him, “How tall is your building?”, because the elevator’s going up and up.
Jolanta: When they figure out who is going to be their customer, “Who am I going to target?” they become very successful. Now for commercial service, then it becomes the challenge and commercial service loves a challenge-
Jolanta: -is finding the correct match. How do we correctly match you up with the appropriate customer.
Murray sells clamps and if you think of a clamp, it’s something to pinch the hose with so nothing comes out.
Jolanta: In their case, you could be selling it to somebody that makes, I don’t know something simple like— Well, I was going to say a washing machine, but even that’s complicated. Let’s say like a household item that doesn’t require too much technology to be applied versus a race car, like a race car that competes for money and it matters to them what kind of hose clamp you have on there because they don’t have much time to change it when the hose blows out on the racetrack.
When they decide who their customer is going to be and they go after that, all of a sudden their value proposition becomes very different than one that just says, “I will sell this to you for pennies on the dollar because I’m the cheapest guy in town and then when it breaks in a couple days, you come back and I’ll give you more.”
[00:29:55] Jose: So true, so true.
[00:29:58] Derrick: Jose, we’re about to wrap up in a little— Maybe is there any pieces of advice you would give to other people looking to export but may be hesitant? Anything you have to offer?
[00:30:13] Jose: Oh, sure it will be great. Number one, I think first and foremost, throughout the time that we have talked I think the best advice that I can give is always take time to stop and review your offering, review your value proposition. It’s okay to change it. The world is changing, especially with the pandemic, we have all changed ways to do things. Internally, we also have to reply and say, “You know what? We’d better change we’d better talk about this.”
One of the big ones was here at Murray was tried to ship everybody’s using our own carrier, what we call prepaid and bill. We’ll charge them and we’ll ship the product to wherever they needed. Poland, Russia, Spain, France, et cetera but some customer say, “No, you know what? From now on I want to use my freight forwarder and it has to be an Ocean container,” but our culture was, “No, no, no we don’t work like that. We’re going to ship it our way,” but due to ExporTech and due to the experience that now we have seen it is okay to accommodate the customer. We’re not losing control over the cargo. We’re really working as a partner so let them work on that.
I think that will be one piece of advice is be okay, evaluate, and listen to what the customers are saying in these evolving times. Things are changing we have to be creative. Now, with that in mind is we have to be careful some customers also will ask you for everything to the point that it might not be profitable for you to do what they’re looking for, but in some cases, you can come back with an offer.
I guess one of the first pieces of advice would be look and evaluate always your value proposition and listen to what customers are telling you and see if there is a possibility to tailor what they are looking for or accommodate it in one way. Believe it or not, customer can feel it, customer can see it, and they feel comfortable talking to you about it.
I think the second piece of advice that I will say is try to always find out the pulse of the market, what is the market doing? What are the dynamics? What things are changing? What competitors are doing? What new products are coming to the market? Don’t fall behind, always stay relevant. With that also for ourselves is the compromise of each one of us to learn more about our product and how our product is received worldwide so we have a clear picture and we are the professional solver that we can say with reasoning, “My product is better or I don’t carry that product let me see if I can develop that.”
The third advice that I will give to everybody who [unintelligible 00:32:59] no matter how much you know, no matter how much experience you have, if you have a chance to take ExporTech, do it because it’s a refresher many times of things that you left on the side because sometimes it’s funny you go back to your books from college and you forgot that you revise things like plain organization basics development. Those things are important and ExporTech always will give you those fresh feedback to say, “Hey, remember this? Remember A, B, and C? Well, now you have the beginning and look how the market is attending those again, don’t forget about them.”
Those are the three pieces of advice that I will give to anybody that is trying to develop international business.
[00:33:43] Derrick: Thank you. Jolanta„ anything from you?
[00:33:47] Jolanta: Have a good breakfast before you come to class.
[00:33:51] Jose: That is so true. That is so true.
[00:33:54] Jolanta: Oh, we joke about that but ExporTech is an advanced export planning class and it’s at the CEO or the Director of International Sales level. It does take a lot of energy and planning and once you have the plan, we literally take the company’s issue or the thing they’re trying to figure out, and we work on it in the session. There’s a lot of group work, there’s a lot of networking, and there’s also a lot of one-on-one. ExporTech in Baltimore at least, because ExporTech is on all over the United States and each one of the states customizes it based to the needs of the company.
The other thing I should say is that one ExporTech is not necessarily exactly the same as the next, because it’s always based on who’s in your class, who are the companies participating, and what is it that they need? There’s a lot of individual attention and not only have a good breakfast during the class but there is a lot of work after hours as well. At the end of the program, each company is required to present their plan and it has to be for real what are you going to do next, and then after class is over, we work on that plan.
Now that Murray has established their plan and we actually wrote out the steps, the goals, first, second, third, and last order of action items, we’re working on that so that you’re actually doing something for the company. This is not an exercise in just to see how the program works.
[00:36:00] Derrick: Jose, tell people where they can reach you and your company.
[00:36:04] Jose: Oh, absolutely. Thank you so much for that. Murray Corporation’s web page is murraycorp.com. My number 410-771-0380 and my email address email@example.com.
[00:36:20] Derrick: This podcast is intended to provide information that may be of assistance to US companies. Statements made by Export Nation podcast guests reflect the views and opinions of that individual. This podcast does not constitute an endorsement by the US Commercial Service of the individual, his or her employer, or affiliated entity. The specific information provided, resources mentioned, or products or services endorsed or offered by that individual and his or her employer or affiliated entity.
The US Commercial Service assumes no responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or timeliness of the information provided by the guest or for the decisions made in reliance on any information provided by the guests in this podcast. The information provided in this podcast does not constitute legal advice. Thank you for listening to this episode of Export Nation brought to you by the US Commercial Service. For more information on how you can get started exporting, please visit www.trade.gov.
[00:37:22] [END OF AUDIO]