As an electrical steel product manufacturer in Burlington, Ontario, Cogent Power aims to deliver energy efficiently. Ron Harper is president of the company.
When and why did you first start thinking about exporting as part of your business?
We’ve exported pretty much from day one because we are close to the U.S. market. However, we started seriously considering expanding our exporting presence to larger export markets in 2010, due to opportunity.
We had a steel supplier that we developed a really strong relationship with. We discussed joint opportunities, worked together on a strategy and we were successful. We couldn’t have done it on our own.
What was your export journey like to get to where you are today?
Most of our exports are driven by a handful of customers, so we’ve really focused on relationships and adding value. Once we developed the confidence of doing business with some of the larger OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) that really helped to refine our approach to deepen our understanding of what value we can provide to all of our customers. We built on that value from there and it’s helped us with our exports and overall sales.
Is there a specific story from your company’s history that you would consider a critical moment for your export journey?
Our industry started to become more globalized after the economic crisis of 2008.
Around 2010, there were oversupply challenges as a result of the economic crisis and the low demand in Europe for infrastructure materials, so we needed to find a way to continue our business success and growth. We developed a partnership with another company that had similar aspirations to expand globally and together, we were successful.
What is the biggest difference between selling in Canada and selling in another country? How did you adapt to that difference?
Culturally, there’s a little bit of difference between Canada and the U.S., our major export market. The dollars and cents are important here in Canada. In general terms, the acceptance of the value above and beyond the transactional price is an easier sell, compared to a total-cost approach with Canadian OEMs versus the U.S. And that’s sometimes a function of size and the purchasing power for the company itself.
For Cogent, our value proposition bridges our customers’ engineering, purchasing sales and production. But if you can only access the purchasing arm, that makes the discussion very different.
How has exporting changed the way you market/sell your products/services in Canada?
It definitely helped us be more competitive in Canada and gave us a sharper sense of what value we add and what we really need to pay attention to in our business. The competitive environment can be greater on the global stage so that sharpens your skills, abilities and talents and it definitely challenges you as an organization. That’s something that we then apply to all of our customers both here at home and abroad.
Can you share the best lesson learned from a bad exporting experience?
Not really. In our industry, you really have to pay attention to trade rules and trade winds. We haven’t experienced anything in in terms of major obstacles when it comes to exporting.
I believe that once you create a footprint in the U.S., it’s a little easier to expand that footprint around the globe.
When it comes to exports, what do you know now that you wish you knew when you started exporting?
We’re really fortunate because we are a global company. We have sales offices everywhere and we have contacts around the globe so that’s been really helpful in eliminating surprises.
If that wasn’t the case, the advice I would give to an SME looking to export is to make sure you establish a couple of key contacts in the markets you are going into to understand what value you are providing as well as the dynamics of that particular market.
What is one characteristic that you believe every exporter should possess?
You need to be strategic — you can’t just go in and hope for the best. But I also think you need to have patience to learn and understand.