Women Execs Share Their Tips For Going Global
Export Nation for Women’s History Month
This episode of Export Nation presents our International Women’s Day panel, which occurred March 8, 2021 and featured five women executives who guided their firms to achieve international success. The panel is moderated by Joann Hill, Acting National Director for the U.S. Commercial Service with opening remarks from Diane Farrell Acting Undersecretary and Deputy Under Secretary for International Trade at the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Susan Jaime, the Chief Executive Officer of Ferra Coffee
Pamela Nelson, Founder and CEO of the Bracane Company
Jean Seo, founder and CEO of Evolue
Grace Preston, Director of International Sales, Optim LLC
Sherry Rupert, CEO of the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association
Title: Women Execs Share Their Tips For Going Global (International Women’s Day Program) | Transcript Date: March 8, 2021 | Duration: 51:56
[00:00:02] Host: On this episode of export nation, we listen in our International Women’s Day panel discussion which occurred March 8 and featured five women executives who guided their firms to achieve international success.
The discussion is moderated by Joann Hill, Acting National Director for the U.S. Commercial Service with opening remarks from Diane Farrell Acting Undersecretary and Deputy Under Secretary for International Trade at the U.S. Department of Commerce.
[00:00:30] Diane: Hello, everybody. Good afternoon, good evening, good morning since we span the globe, and absolutely delighted to see so many people signing up to join us today. It’s going to be a really, really interesting hours-long conversation. Joanne, thank you to you and the team for organizing. To my colleagues from the US field, it’s always wonderful to be with you.
You guys are some of the hardest-working federal employees across the globe in my view, and so we’re just really, really lucky to have you. You are the tip of the spear when it comes to our efforts to help exporters, especially on the small and medium size, to succeed and thrive. Of course, welcome to all of you, our special guests, for joining us today for this wonderful hour.
International Women’s Day. I do admit, and I imagine a lot of you probably feel the same way, every day really is International Women’s Day. We’re going to celebrate it and really learn more about the possibilities and the opportunities that we have. We know that women really are the underpinnings and the backbone of so many economies, including our own. It is really wonderful to have that acknowledgment and that recognition.
The theme this year is, “Choose to Challenge.” As you can imagine, what we want to talk about is the fact that we know that if we have even greater success with women-owned businesses that exports go up. We know that just based upon the WTO that women-owned businesses average three and a half more productive growth than those who don’t. It’s an amazing thing, but these are statistics that have been born out year over year.
Again, we really want to hear the successful stories of these five very dynamic women speakers and think about how we can apply their stories and their experiences to those of us who are listening and learning and wanting to take, in some cases, perhaps those first steps to add exporting to your portfolios. The question is, how we do this? That is why so many of us on this call are very excited to be a part of the International Trade Administration.
This is what we do. It’s a very simple— not always easy, but it’s a simple construct. We create prosperity by helping companies to become more competitive internationally. We promote trade and investment through a number of different areas that you’ll hear more about today. We ensure fair trade and compliance when it comes to making sure that the playing field is level for US companies.
Those are the three basic premise that we use as we actually develop our work. We excel at export promotion. We have the US commercial service. We are in 100 cities across the United States and we are in 70-plus countries around the world. If you have a challenge, an idea, an interest, we have got somebody who has a level of expertise, somebody who has an understanding of the market that you’re interested in who can be very helpful to you.
We do these sometimes on a broad scale as you’re hearing today. We do these sometimes on an individual scale as well. Again, be sure. Ask your questions. If they don’t all get answered today, you’ve got the website. Please continue to stay in touch and ask us your questions. 2020, which by all measures, was an extraordinarily unusual year to be somewhat polite about it. We have lived through extraordinary human tragedy. We’ve also lived through an unprecedented 100-year[DH1] historic global collapse of our economies.
Yet even in 2020, we were able to help at goods and services areas over 31,000 small and medium enterprises, which we very conservatively estimate to have been about $86.7 billion in assistance.[DH2] Our folks really know what they’re doing. They are adaptive. Originally, when the pandemic first hit almost a year ago when the gears of enterprise began to come to almost a screeching halt, we had really downgraded what we thought were going to be our abilities to actually perform. We have exceeded, quarter over quarter, our estimates.
That’s a testament certainly to our team, but it’s also a testament to US businesses who have found ways to work around some of the challenges that we’ve experienced and have continued to thrive and do well and who see an extraordinarily bright future going forward. Interestingly also, for clients that we’ve helped, we estimate that on an average basis, 9% saw an increase[DH3] in their annual revenue as a result of either they’re taking the first step with exporting or they’re expanding to other markets overseas, or just learning more from us and becoming more efficient in the markets in order to see those increases.
Again, rough estimate, we say that’s maybe a $2 million difference in terms of average annual increase. The other thing that’s quite interesting because this is actually an improvement. Now, we say that of those clients that we’ve assisted, the average being in about eight countries. For folks who have perhaps thought about one or two, we, of course, think about USMCA and the former NAFTA countries, Canada and Mexico.
It’s very good to see that small and medium enterprises are expanding even beyond maybe those easier markets to more overseas markets. Again, based upon the statistics, the yield can be very, very good. Now, specifically about women and this is really important. We have always, of course, wanted to zero in on women-owned businesses. That’s been a sweet spot for us and that will continue. We’ve also upped our game by doing more in terms of direct outreach for women’s initiatives.
Last year, we actually held a six-part series that was specifically for women related to, at that time, particularly, the new USMCA agreement. We have just launched another initiative called the Women’s Coffee Chat Series, where we’re focusing on the Middle East and Africa region. We did one of these events featuring Kenya not too long ago. Tomorrow, so please ask the question or go to our website, we will be having a coffee chat to talk about Ethiopia.
Finally, what I would like to say is that we are also really excited to have a new secretary who was just sworn in last week. The former governor of Rhode Island, now Secretary Gina Raimondo. She’s exciting from any number of different perspectives. She’s not the first woman. Happily, she’s the fourth woman to join Commerce (as Secretary), which we’re all very proud of, but we want to continue to see that trend in that direction.
She has an amazing background. Of course, having been a governor for six years before just recently resigning to join Commerce. There’s much to be learned from her. She’s familiar with our programs and our colleagues, especially in the New England area. We’re really looking forward to working with her and seeing an even greater ramping-up of this outreach. Along those lines, it should also be said that President Biden representing the Biden-Harris administration has been very focused on what the administration is calling “equity.”
The purpose for that is, again, to look at underserved communities, to look at communities where they can make a significant difference to the fabric of our society. Women are clearly right there in the center focus when we talk about our hopes and aspirations for the future. I want to thank all of you. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. COVID-19 has left us with a tremendous number of challenges.
I want to say to our guests, you’ve got a great team who can really help and make a difference for you. Since it is International Women’s Day, although I don’t want to be completely exclusive of any men who have joined this call, one of my favorite lines in addressing women as we all face certain challenges, what I usually say is behind every successful woman is a basket of dirty laundry. Thanks, everybody. Have a great conference. Congratulations to the five featured speakers. Joanne, back to you.
[00:9:43] Joanne: Thank you, Diane, and thank you for that wonderful overview. [chuckles] That was excellent. Today, you will hear from a panel of five successful women exporters that have worked with the US Commercial Service to help them grow their businesses internationally. They will provide insights into how ITA can help you get the resources, tools, and personal connections you need to export abroad. This is part one of a two-part panel session that will run back-to-back with a five-minute intermission or less.
In our first panel, we will hear from three of our women exporters, including Grace Preston, director of International Sales, Optim LLC; Pamela Nelson, founder and CEO of the Bracane Company; and Sherry Rupert, CEO of the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association. Now, let’s get started. I’m going to ask each one of you to take a couple of minutes and tell us about your company and what made you decide to expand globally. We’re going to start with Grace followed by Pamela and then Sherry. Grace?
[00:11:02] Grace Preston: Hi, good morning, Joanne. Thank you. First, thank you so much for having us participate today. I work for Optim and what Optim does is we actually develop, manufacture, and sell flexible fiberoptic endoscopes that are used in health care and security applications, so that is our company.
[00:11:26] Joanne: Wonderful. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about what made you decide to expand globally?
[00:11:36] Grace: Really, three reasons. We saw some increased global interest in our products. People were really looking for high-quality US-made products around the world, so that’s probably number one. Number two is that we had incremental business coming in from overseas. We thought if we focused on it, could we move that needle from incremental business to being a really good portion of our business revenue? That’s number two. Then lastly, diversification. If one market like the US market is down, diversifying our markets is actually going to help us weather the storm. We’re experiencing a little bit of that right now. Basically, not putting all of our eggs in one basket.
[00:12:24] Joanne: That’s excellent, Grace, and thank you for kicking us off with that insight. Diversifying your markets so that you can leverage when one market is down is great wisdom and great insight. Thank you for that. Next, I’d like to have Pamela, if you would share with us a little bit about the background of your company and what made you decide to expand globally. You’re on mute, Pam.
[00:12:54] Pamela Nelson: Bracane Company is a full-service clinical research firm. We work primarily with medical devices and pharmaceuticals. We’re located in Plano and we have also started to expand into providing clinical staffing as well as health promotion services as well. Now, as far as why did we decide to go globally, a lot of the medicines as you may know and the raw materials for those are researched and now are produced outside of the US.
By us being able to have a presence in other markets, we thought that we would be able to continue that service and be a direct impact there locally where the pharmaceutical companies were conducting the clinical trials as well as also where those services were needed. That was part of the reason why we decided to expand. We’d always had some incremental business or an occasional project that was outside of the US, but just decided to build a more stable presence outside of the country.
[00:14:08] Joanne: Wonderful. Thank you for sharing that, Pamela. That’s a huge industry, of course. We know that it has no allegiance. Health care is needed globally. Wonderful that you’ve expanded your footprint, looking forward to learning more. Our next panelist is Sherry, Sherry Rupert.
[00:14:33] Sherry Rupert: Good morning.
[00:14:35] Joanne: Good morning, Sherry.
[00:14:37] Sherry: I am with the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association. We’re a national non-profit headquartered in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Our mission is to define, introduce, grow and sustain American Indian Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian tourism that honors traditions and values. We serve as the national voice for American Indian nations that are engaged in cultural tourism. We also provide technical assistance and training to tribal nations and native-owned enterprises engaged in tourism, hospitality, and recreation. We’re here to assist the tribes in being successful in the tourism industry.
[00:15:16] Joanne: Wonderful. I know tourism has been heavily impacted by this COVID pandemic. We’re looking forward to continuing to work with you to bring about new opportunities and burgeoning opportunities that are going to unveil themselves as we go back to normalcy. Thank you, Sherry. Our next question is— and I’d like to start with you, Pamela. Our next question is, what was your biggest fear of going global and how did you overcome that fear? What keeps you motivated today about your product or service with foreign customers?
[00:16:02] Pamela: For me, the biggest fear was not having the information that we needed to work with each one of the companies globally, or the countries. In the research space, of course, it’s a heavily-regulated market with rules and laws that change dramatically from year to year. We were really struggling with where do we start and how do we grow our footprint so that we can understand better how to manage that regulatory landscape.
We just decided to focus on some smaller areas at first to where we can get a better understanding of that before we jumped off really quickly. It took us a minute to learn all those areas, but that was how we began to try to do that. That was our biggest fear, is that we would get audited or just not know how to navigate that process.
[00:17:07] Joanne: Wonderful. Thank you, Sherry. Sorry, excuse me. Pamela. I’m so happy that you did point out that you started small and grew incrementally. That is a very prudent insight that I know will fair others well, other ladies, women that are part of today’s session that want to learn more about best practices. Next, we’ll hear from Sherry. Sherry, same question for you. What was your biggest fear of going global and how did you overcome that fear? What keeps you motivated today about your product or service in the global market?
[00:17:47] Sherry: I think that the biggest fear for AIANTA when we entered into the international market in 2007 was, were we ready? Was Indian country ready to bring the international markets to them? Many of our tribes are very small. Some are larger and are product-ready. AIANTA spent a lot of time providing that technical assistance in training, preparing tribes for the international market, and we also started small.
We started with ITB Berlin, so the German market. We knew that that was a good market for us and began to attend ITB, bring tribes along with us, show them how to work with that market. We received a lot of great information from you all, commercial services in regard to those markets. It’s been really great to see the increase of visitors to Indian country, especially from that market. Let’s see. The second part of that was, how did we overcome that fear?
[00:19:07] Joanne: Well, what keeps you motivated?
[00:19:09] Sherry: Oh, what keeps us motivated? I think what keeps us motivated is the ability to tell our stories through tourism. A lot of what people know about Native people here in the US, it comes from movies, and so breaking down those stereotypes through tourism. People coming out to the tribal lands and learning about those specific tribes is very important. To see the pride in our children’s eyes when they’re talking about their culture to somebody else from a different country is an amazing sight. It’s an amazing feeling to know that you are perpetuating your culture by sharing with visitors from other countries.
[00:20:02] Joanne: That’s awesome, Sherry. I know that there are some beautiful arts, crafts, and other talents and services as well that are in high demand locally, so thank you. Thank you for sharing that. Next, I’d like to hear from Grace.
[00:20:28] Grace: As a manufacturer, it’s really difficult for us to go to market on our own. We look for companies within markets, local distributors, and partners to resell our products. Our biggest fear has always been finding the right company to partner with, making sure that they’re the best partner to get us into market. Because if you don’t find that right partner, it’s going to cost you a lot of time, a lot of effort, [clears throat] excuse me, and you may come out of it without any sales.
You want to make your investment really pick the best-of-breed partner in the market. I tell people, “Do your diligence. Take your time. Verify things that companies overseas are telling you that they can do for you.” We’ve used US Commercial Service quite a bit to qualify and quantify a lot of our inquiries that come to us or look for a partner in a certain market. I’d encourage everybody, “That’s a great way to overcome your fear.”
We’ve got a lot of resources available to us, whether it’s commercial service, state agencies can help SBA. There’s a lot of things available to us as small companies that can help us expand our markets and find the right partner. The other thing I would say is a lot of small companies are afraid of saying no. You’ve got to get over that fear of saying no. There’s going to be a lot of people that want your product.
They want exclusivity to your product. Sometimes you have to say no and don’t be afraid to say no. Walk away from a deal if it doesn’t feel right to you. Say no and don’t be afraid to say no. I just encourage everybody to do that because as small companies, we want to sell our products. We want to sell our services. We want to say yes to everything, but sometimes saying yes to everything is not really good for you.
Take your time, qualify, and learn how to say no. What keeps me motivated and our company motivated, it’s really simple. Number one, increased revenue. That’s what we’re all in business for. We want to increase revenue. Increased revenue leads to job creation. It leads to bonuses for people. It leads to more R&D for future products. That’s really important, and pride. I’m really excited to sell our products and I think we’re up to about 30 countries worldwide.
I love talking to some of my folks on our manufacturing floor when I go and visit our factory. I talk to them and there’s a sense of pride knowing that they’re manufacturing a product that’s going to end up in Kosovo, Italy, or Chile, and it’s going to help a doctor diagnose cancer or it’s going to help a border control agency fine $2 million worth of drugs that were hidden in the car. There’s that pride, that sense of pride. That’s what keeps me motivated. I love seeing these success stories.
[00:23:33] Joanne: That’s excellent, Grace. Thank you for that. I took away a couple of nuggets myself. [laughs] Learn to say no and increase revenues. [chuckles] That’s the bottom line. Thank you so much for sharing those nuggets and resources that you’ve used to help you sustain growth and insight in doing business internationally. Our next question, what do you predict you will need to do proactively in the next five to 10 years to succeed and how can the US Commercial Service help? I’d like to start with Sherry and then Grace and then Pam. Sherry?
[00:24:22] Sherry: Thank you. What do we predict we need to do proactively in the next five years? I think that COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on the tribes here in the United States. It’s going to take some years for tourism to get back to where it was pre-COVID-19. What we’re planning on doing is gearing up for continued advocacy for infrastructure needs. Through COVID-19, it’s become blatantly apparent that the tribal lands have not been funded at the levels that they need to be for infrastructure, for health care.
[00:25:17] Joanne: You’re on mute, Sherry. Sorry.
[00:25:21] Sherry: Oh no, was I on mute that whole time?
[00:25:23] Joanne: No, no, just the last sentence or two.
[00:25:26] Sherry: Oh, we plan to use our national platform to advocate on behalf of the tribes across the nation. We’re also advocating for the commercial services to be able to have additional funds to be able to help the tribes more. That way, they can participate in more of the international markets that we can bring tourism. We’ve started with— I mentioned ITB Berlin in Germany.
We added in Showcase USA Italy, which was just this last week, which was very successful. We have a high level of interest from the Italian market. We’re also now in the UK working there with brand USA. I think that we can work together through our advocacy and with the services that you provide, and helping to increase the amount of product in Indian country.
[00:26:42] Joanne: That’s wonderful. Thank you, Sherry, and congratulations. Next, Grace.
[00:26:50] Grace: Okay, so I would say what we need to do proactively over the next five to 10 years is to continue to help others understand that we live in a global economy. it seems really obvious, but we’re in a global economy. We have to have a global perspective from everything we buy, where we go, what we do every day. It seems obvious, but not everybody gets that.
I think the more that we can advocate for global economics, fair trade, I think that would really help us as a manufacturer and understanding that while many companies and many services are US-focused, there is a lot more out there. Not every market is like the US, so the services, again, that you offer and some of your counterparts offer are really important in getting the word out and helping us understand how to navigate the global markets.
[00:27:51] Joanne: Thank you, Grace. Lastly, I’d like to hear from Pam.
[00:27:59] Pamela: Okay, so I think, for us, I think it’s still somewhat similar to what Sherry and Grace were also saying in that the pandemic for us was really an eye-opener of how fragile our healthcare system is and still opened up even more so the disparities that we all face in delivering health care, whether it’s providing medicines or just really the basic needs for the people globally.
What we have thought and started to really put in place is just really having a more presence being remote as long as we have, and then we found out, yes, we can work remotely. We oftentimes fought against the decentralization of clinical trials. Now, we know that we can do those clinical trials decentralized meeting that we can conduct a trial in England or in Germany and still have those results very similar and studies going on simultaneously through in the US, having people be seen at home versus trying to trap them on going into clinics.
We learned a lot during this time and so we intentionally are trying to foster more relationships with other companies and utilizing the US Commercial Service to help us to continue to identify those areas where we can be more effective meeting the partners. They were very helpful with us identifying partners in different regions and so we intend to continue to use that platform to work with them, as well as the regulatory bodies, identifying those who are actually the ones who can help to get us there and to know what their rules are and regulations for conducting those clinical trials. We just know that, globally, it will be seamless now versus we had an ex-US study and a US study. I think it’ll just be the study moving forward.
[00:30:15] Joanne: That’s wonderful, Pamela. I’m happy that you share that you learn how to improvise. All things considered with all of the impact that the pandemic has had, you used it to improvise, diversify your locations. Another key point that I really appreciate that you made centered on regulations. I can’t underplay that enough. It’s very important, depending on the industry or sector that you’re in.
If there are regulatory changes that are taking place, you need to stay up on top of those because they could impact what you’re doing with regard to your international sales significantly. With that, that concludes part one. I would like to thank Grace Preston, director of international sales, Optum, LLC; Pamela Nelson, founder and CEO of the Bracane Company; and Sherry Rupert, the CEO of American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association.
We wish each of you continued success and thank you. I would like to ask that you stay with us as we transition to part two of our panel discussion that will begin momentarily. I would like to also remind you to please recall that this program is being recorded. We are asking that everyone mute their phone lines to alleviate background noises, and please turn your cameras off so that we may sustain bandwidth.
We’re ready. Okay. During this panel, we will hear from two of our very successful women exporters, including Jean Seo, founder and CEO of Evolue; and Susan Jaime, the chief executive officer of Ferra Coffee. Now, let’s get started. I’d like to start by asking if you can take a couple of minutes and tell us about your company and what made you decide to expand globally. Let’s start with Jean.
[00:32:29] Jean Seo: Can you hear me?
[00:32:29] Joann: Yes, we can.
[00:32:31] Jean: Okay, perfect. Hi, I’m the founder of Evolue Skincare. I have two lines. Evolue is the anti-aging luxury skincare sold at places like the St. Regis Spa or boutique department stores like Harvey Nichols. Also, I have an affordable, younger organic skincare line called LUE By Jean Seo, which, in the US, is sold in Cost Plus World Market and other places like Sasa, Watsons. It’s more of what everyone calls globally as a Gen Z brand, the younger generation.
The reason I decided to move global is because I opened my store in 2007 before the recession. When the recession hit, I was on Abbot Kinney, Venice in California, which was the trendiest street in Los Angeles, but I knew that I wouldn’t make it if I don’t export. In 2010, I moved to Beverly Hills because Beverly Hills is a global brand in itself, especially in luxury and beauty. In 2015, I came up with my own lines because before I just sold other brands and that’s how I accumulated my clients, and then I made the products for them. That way, I had a client base already. Since then, I am sold in Latin America, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and the Middle East.
[00:34:09] Joanne: That’s wonderful, Jean. What made you decide to expand globally?
[00:34:14] Jean: I had to. The recession in 2008 was quite horrible, so that’s when I knew that I have to go global. I didn’t go global until later, but I’m one of those people that plan 10 years ahead. My mom jokes that I have 10 lifetimes of planning ahead of me.
[00:34:33] Joanne: [laughs] Thank you, Jean. We can all relate to beauty and skincare products as women-
[00:34:44] Joanne: - in demand.
[00:34:47] Jean: It’s very competitive, so—
[00:34:48] Joanne: Yes, I understand.
[00:34:49] Jean: I’ll talk about that later.
[00:34:53] Joanne: Okay, I’d like to have you, Susan, to tell us or share with us a little bit about your business and what made you decide to expand globally?
[00:35:03] Susan Jaime: Sure. Well, good afternoon, everybody. Thank you for having me. The reason why I expand— Let me start again. I’ve been in this industry for 27 years. It’s a very competitive industry. Sometimes it’s oversaturated in some of the countries that I’m in. It was a natural fit for me to be able to expand internationally. Coffee is the second or the first traded self-commodity in the world.
It’s more than oil. With such a competitive and saturated industry, I had to find areas where I knew that I could supply and also be still creative and excited about what I was doing. I chose to do more of the commercial side of coffee. I’m able to design blends for chefs and for restaurants and small boutique grocery stores. That was a perfect fit for me because I was able to get into a niche that was very unique and that I would still be able to help and represent well all the different growers of coffee that I purchased from.
It was a very exciting time, but very scary, of course, when you’re going into an industry where the majority is male-oriented, especially internationally too. I found my voice in that industry. I think that’s very important for everybody as women entrepreneurs to understand that you do have a voice. Once you find your niche, get creative and get excited even though it might be a little bit difficult, but it’s worthwhile.
[00:36:51] Joanne: That’s excellent, Susan. I’m sure that some of those that are joining us from the West Coast could probably use a cup of coffee.
[00:37:00] Susan: Yes.
[00:37:04] Joanne: Thank you for sharing. That’s fascinating. Our second question, and I’m going to have you answered this one, if you would, Susan first, what are two or three best practices you would give as advice to US companies that want to explore a global trade with foreign markets and why are these best practices so important?
[00:37:27] Susan: I think that the three best that have helped me is to stay flexible. Every country is different. It has different regulations, so you have to learn to listen and stay flexible. It’s not so much when I do anything that isn’t a new market. I tend to do a lot of, “I feel, I feel, I feel like this is going to happen” or “I think, I think, I think this is going to happen.” Sometimes we get blinded by that.
If you maintain yourself flexible and listen and learn as much as you can and stay rooted into your idea and what your vision is, is very helpful. Understand your potential and your limitations in each market, especially because each market has not only different regulations but also, culturally, they’re very different. In some of the countries that I’ve been into, the people that I have dealt with are more comfortable dealing with a man. I can’t get disappointed or hurt or anything like that.
I understand their cultural differences. I just basically get people that I would call my tribe that helped me with all those challenges. It’s very, very effective when you do that. Have a very good team on your side that can help you navigate all the different things from the presentation of your product to the understanding of how those products have to be positioned in those countries because marketing is very different in Mexico than it is in the United States. Colombia is very different than Dubai. You need to have a more broad and more general view of how your product would fit into those countries.
[00:39:25] Joanne: That is sage wisdom, Susan, sage. Heard you loud and clear. Staying flexible, listen, learn as much as you can, and very critical, understand cultures and differences and have a great team and think broad.
Thank you. Thank you so much. I’d like to pivot to Jean and have you to answer the same question, Jean. What are the two or three best practices you would give as advice to US companies that want to explore what to trade with foreign markets and why are these best practices important?
[00:40:02] Jean: Actually, Susan talked about a lot of things that I actually faced and it’s so nice to know that there’s others out there. The three things that I would focus on is registration, logistics, and honest, good relationships with distributors in my industry. In the skincare industry, the registration is really important because in the US, you can make skincare and sell it at the farmer’s market like an archaic, handmade craft law or something.
In order to export for it and go into other countries, you need strict registration. It’s almost like having an FDA and every country is different and timing for everything is very different too. In certain countries, it might be very quick. In certain countries, it just takes forever and ever and ever.
[00:41:06] Jean: Patience is really important when it comes to that. Also, I have hired firms to do the registration for me, but don’t count on them either. Just be very detail-oriented yourself. Also, logistics like putting something on a pallet and then shipping it somewhere within the United States is a lot easier than shipping it through planes or even by ship to another country.
Whoa, get somebody who has a really good organization skills on your team to do that because let’s say your shipment gets stuck in wherever it may be and you don’t have the paperwork for that, then you’re going to spend thousands more getting it to where you need to go and then return it and charge you regardless. The one that I want to really emphasize, the last one is honest, good relationships with distributors.
In the beauty industry, there are these giants and private equity firms that want to come and buy your brand once you are everywhere. The thing is that these distributors, they took your brand and they spent their own time and money making it popular in that country. When you sell your beauty company to whether it’s a private equity firm or a big giant, they have their own distributors. They ask you to just break contract with your distributor. It weren’t really high for the last two years to do PR and marketing for you.
Because this has happened so many times, a lot of distributors that I talked to, they’re like, “Hey, how do I know that you’re not going to do this to me?” I actually just write it in my contract if something like that happens. We work something out so that they get something out of it too so they feel secure. I think that is the hardest part that I’ve come across when talking to distributors that I’ve met through US Commercial Services.
[00:43:18] Joanne: Thank you, Jean. Again, very, very sage wisdom. The emphasis you placed on and criticality of registrations, strong logistics partners, understanding the timing, and how things could go awry if you don’t have the right logistics partners, and probably, I would venture to say, relationships with some of those that are tied into the international freight forwarders and customs brokers.
[00:43:48] Jean: Yes, [chuckles] I couldn’t tell one to all of that in a couple of minutes, but— oh, my God. [laughs]
[00:43:51] Joanne: Understood. Of course, the distribution channels and understanding how all of that works and how you’ve navigated to be successful in that regard. Thanks so much. Again, sage. Our next question, and this is our final question, is if you could think someone in your life today who may have taught you something or mentored you in some way, who would that person be and what would they think of your achievements today? Let’s start with you, Jean.
[00:44:30] Jean: I have a lot of people I look up to. When it came to starting a beauty company and exporting internationally, I didn’t have a mentor. Everyone thought I was crazy.
[00:45:44] Jean: “Hi, Jean, what are you doing? There’s 274 new skincare brands every year. What are your plans?” Other than mentors that I would think, I actually really think my employees, who’s stuck with me through thick and thin. We had days that we had to tighten our belts and we had days we have to pray. They stuck by me and I highly recommend for people that are small businesses to hire others who has had a small business.
Because at first, I was a bit insecure of my lack of corporate skills, so I hired people with impressive résumé and job experiences. At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with corporate, but they don’t understand small businesses. If you want your right-hand man or woman, [chuckles] pick your employees wisely. I thank them. I really think of them as my family actually.
[00:45:52] Joanne: Thank you, Jean. Thank you. Greatest asset, your staff. Understood. Thank you for being candid about what you experienced in how you used hiring and a talent pool where you didn’t have the skills. You went out and you hired them and found them and hired people that have worked in small businesses, so thank you for sharing that. That is, again, really great insight. I’d like to turn it over to Susan to take us home with the same question. Susan?
[00:46:30] Susan: Okay, great. I can think again of a lot of people, some of my teachers in coffee that have taught me a lot. After thinking about this question, I got to tell you that the person that really inspire me to go outside the United States and help me greatly was Daniel Rodriguez of the US Commercial Services. He gave me the beginning of what was really going to be the dream that I had of going international and made it possible for me to navigate through all the different areas that I needed to navigate.
He gave me all the tools that I needed to contact and have the information ready for me that it’s so, so important and it’s great to have available to us as small businesses like the EXIM Bank, the international trade offices, the embassies, the US Commercial Services. We have already a lot here in the United States, in our government that is for us that we can utilize and really, really put in place to help us navigate through all the international businesses. I think Daniel was just extremely instrumental in me being able to go internationally.
[00:47:42] Joanne: Wonderful. Thank you, Susan, and thank you for shining light on the wonderful services that are provided by Commercial Service and how Daniel was able to help you. We encourage all of those that are listening today that are interested in going global to visit one of our more than 100 local offices that are located throughout the nation, so thank you so much.
[00:48:11] Susan: Thank you for having us.
[00:48:1 2] Joanne: Thank you both. Thank you, Jean, as well. I would like to take this opportunity to thank each of our amazing panelists that joined us today for celebrating International Women’s Day, including Grace Peterson from Optim. I’d like to thank Pamela Nelson from the Bracane Company, Sherry Rupert from the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association. Again, Jean Seo, who you just heard from, from the Evolue Skincare, and Jean Jaime from Ferra Coffee.
Thank each of you for sharing your experiences with us today and inspiring others to consider exporting as a business growth strategy. Thank you also to everyone who joined us today in honoring women exporters. To all of the women exporters who are with us virtually today, we honor you and your exporting achievements as well. We recognize the important contributions that you make to the US economy as well as your local economies. We will continue to hold events throughout this month and throughout the year in support of women’s global empowerment.
We have launched a monthly coffee chat series that you heard about earlier to explore opportunities in various markets. Again, our next coffee chat will be held tomorrow, March 9th, and it will focus on Ethiopia and potential partnerships between US and Ethiopian women entrepreneurs. You have the slide in front of you where you can go to register for that event. Finally, I would also like to remind you that we have export experts in over 100 cities located throughout America.
They are ready to help you as you just heard from Susan and others on the panel today. That’s what we’re here for and that’s what we’d like to have you reach out to us to do is to help you grow and expand your business internationally. You can find out more about how to contact us at our website. Again, that is here on the slide in front of you as well, trade.gov/commercialserviceofficesus. Again, for the coffee chat series, it’s trade.gov/womensglobalempowermentforum. I would like to, again, thank each of you for joining us today and happy International Women’s Day. Have a wonderful day.