It may seem a daunting task to take a business to the world market but, for companies that do, the payoff can be rewarding — and educational.
Leigh Coulter got the call on a Friday afternoon.
The Japanese customer she had been working with for months wanted to meet with her in person — on Monday.
Coulter, owner of Growers Greenhouse Supplies (GGS) in Vineland, had been working with the Japanese firm on bid pricing for a project.
“On Saturday I jumped on a plane with a change of clothes, a book on how to do business in Japan, and a Japanese-English dictionary,” she said.
Coulter’s story is reflective of dozens of Hamilton area business owners who have gone global — either selling and shipping goods to foreign markets, or bought or built manufacturing plants, distribution centres, sales offices in countries far from the city’s horizon.
Too many businesses, however, are not thinking big enough. That’s according to Robert Hattin, president of ProVantage Automation in Ancaster and chairperson of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters.
“Too often, the thinking is when the company gets bigger than me or my team — there are two ways out.
“You can sell to a private equity firm or public company where you can likely get three times the value than to sell to a fellow entrepreneur. How do you turn that down?
“Or (you can) grow it.”
Ontario has the lion’s share of companies who are exporting enterprises —16,681 in 2012, nearly half of all enterprises in Canada — but the figures remained largely stagnant from the previous four years.
In March, HSBC Global issued a Canada Trade Forecast Report which suggested the national export performance has recently faltered as a result of weak external demand and a declining export share.
Hattin says Canadian companies should think globally — because by thinking of how to compete with the world, companies will improve.
“By thinking big, you change the way you think. That’s why the global markets are so important. If you’re going to start up a business, start with a global business plan, not a Canadian or Ontario plan, a global plan. There isn’t enough business here. There just isn’t,” he said.
Coulter’s story also illustrates both the grim determination and risk tolerance required as well as the imperative need to understand foreign business cultural practices in order to run a successful global business.
“I went to a meeting with a president of a big seed company,” she remembered of that Monday morning. “I had a translator on my left, distributor on my right. The client was across from me. The client would ask me questions. If I could answer yes, I would answer yes in Japanese because it’s easy. It’s hi — very short. If I had to answer no I would let the translator explain no. The Japanese are not facially expressive people. So I had no idea how it went.”
It went well. GGS got the job. It was 1994. That relationship resulted in the establishment of GGS’s first distribution centre outside North America and helped it grow to be one of the largest greenhouse manufacturers on the continent.
Russ Chapman, president of Firebridge, a Burlington-based engineering firm, said cultural barriers were at the heart of his struggles to break into business in Chile. He spent a number of years and more money than he wants to count and has now called it quits. But only in Chile.
He is confident his company can help foreign companies save money with improved processes — he’s done it over and over in North America. It’s just a matter of time, patience, and perhaps the right people. He really doesn’t have a choice — the market in Ontario is too small.
“The potential is so enormous. We should be the poster child of what the government is trying to do: technical, exportable technology and we are in the business of saving emissions,” he said, frustrated.
So Chapman has hired a Chinese-Canadian who is helping facilitate meetings in China, where he hopes to visit in the spring.
Hattin said agencies such as Export Development Canada and organizations such as McKinsey & Company can provide excellent information about expanding globally.
He points to an EDC program which helps Canadian companies acquire or partner with foreign ones. He initially questioned the program, why it seemed to export jobs.
“(The EDC) said this: The wealth will come back to us in the form of profits and taxes. You will learn more about how they are successful and therefore the entity collective will be much better.”
Coulter said there are many reasons to be worried about the risks of operating offshore, but there are risks in everything.
If she had not been willing to jump on a plane to fly to Japan in two days, it would have been a crucial mistake.
“I found out they had been working with another company for 10 years and if I had not made the meeting, they would have had to give it to this other company.
“There are always lots of reasons not to do something until you do it. Then there’s no reason. Why is it possible to ship steel-manufactured greenhouses to Japan? The freight costs are ridiculous, the enormous language barriers, the legal issues — it took us five years to get approved by the building code. There’s all of those — and there are hundreds more.
“But on a Friday, ‘We need you on the other side of the world and maybe you get the job.’ We’ve been doing business with them and we now have a new product line.”
By Lisa Grace Marr , The Hamilton Spectator
We have been posting a lot about Google Glass, and how it can help in business - specifically in greenhouses, retail garden centers, and in our own manufacturing plant. We were lucky to be invited into the Glass Explorer Program early, and have been testing the device since last year.
Now, Google has opened up the program to everyone in the United States for one day only. On April 15th, any US resident can purchase Google Glass and become part of the Explorer Program. At $1500, this early version of the device is not cheap, but with the potential productivity gains that it offers for business users, it may be a great opportunity for early adopters to give it a test drive. Here is the official update from Google:
In the comments below, let us know if you plan on making the purchase!
WELLAND, ON – Rose City Kids recently unveiled its plans for building a rooftop greenhouse solarium. At the annual fundraising dinner it was revealed that the greenhouse structure has been donated by GGS Structures Inc.
Rose City Kids is a non-profit organization whose goal is to make a difference in the lives of children ages 4-12 living in Welland. Rose City Kids is described as a free program held every other Saturday to let kids just be kids, and to give them hope. They launched their first program in March 2008, and it now serves over 600 children.
The greenhouse is custom designed to fit the roof section available for construction. GGS worked with their sister company, JGS Limited, which specializes in architectural greenhouses and roof top greenhouse construction.
The greenhouse solarium will be part of the second floor of the Rose City Kids headquarters. When the kids arrive for tutoring, they have a healthy snack provided for them, and they can go with their tutor anywhere in the building to work on homework and lessons. The greenhouse will be a calm place for kids to feel safe and learn. This will also be an area for the Junior Leadership training to go to relax, and for quiet time.
"At the annual fundraising dinner for Rose City Kids, we heard from one of our Junior Leaders about how Rose City Kids has impacted her life," said Karen Langendoen, volunteer for Rose City Kids.
"Her parents split up when she was 9, and recently her father left her and her sister to find work in Hamilton. That left the two sisters to fend for themselves in a condemned house with no heat or water. They are trying to pay bills, and continue their high school education. Rose City Kids volunteers found her housing, helped with the move, and continue to support her with love and compassion."
With the greenhouse donation from GGS, the organization will be able to offer a safe and comforting refuge for children to learn and play in.
"We also hope to equip this space with comfy furniture and a huge book shelf with amazing books that will be cozy and inviting for our students so they will continue to flourish. Rose City Kids feels blessed to have amazing donors such as GGS. Thank you so much!"
Learn more about Rose City Kids and how you can contribute.
Last year we asked what people loved about working in the greenhouse industry, and we were amazed by the responses we received. Some where funny, while most were heartfelt and inspiring.
So we decided to make a tagsphere with these responses, to visualize growers' answers and see what the most popular responses were. When you click on the tagsphere, you can rotate it around and browse the various reasons why greenhouses are the best places to work. The larger the keyword in the sphere, the more popular the reason. You can then click on a keyword, and all the related responses from growers will pop up!