Levis, Quebec-based Robotiq makes robotic grippers and other automation systems used by manufacturers around the globe. Samuel Bouchard is Robotiq’s president.

You can read the company’s export story here.

What sets your grippers apart from others available across the world?

Flexibility and ease of use. We targeted a niche but growing market of robotics called collaborative robots, where robots work with humans on the assembly line together. For example, the robot picks up and holds a part steady while a person adds something to the part or adjusts it in some way.

Tell us about your first export sale.

It was in 2009. We sold a gripper to a very large industrial system integrator in Detroit.

How many locations do you have?

Our only office is in Canada, and we have a network of more than 70 partners around the world.

How did you achieve export success?

All our competitors were pretty big and all were abroad. We needed to find a small-enough niche we could be good at in the beginning to get a foothold.

What are two or three things you wish you had done differently during your export journey?

It seems so obvious afterwards. We found a problem in custom tooling: Every time a manufacturer added a new product, they had to custom tool their robot in order to produce that product. At first we tried to solve that problem, but then we realized we had to step back and solve the problem in a different way. We saw that if manufacturers replaced their tools with universal tools that do many things, then that would solve the problem.

How has the export world changed since you started in business?

Not much. Manufacturers still have the same problems and still need the same types of solutions. For us, at the start is was about learning how to figure out the right sales channels and partners, and that’s still true today.

Has it been challenging for you to develop an export-oriented culture within your firm?

We went global from the start, so it’s always been part of our company focus. Because robotics is still a small industry and we were a niche product, the only way to make it work was to sell globally.

How would you describe your export success at this point? What did it take to get this far?

With exports to 50 countries, we have done well. It takes getting the whole chain in place with a great team, a great product that naturally sells itself, consistent high quality, a kick-ass marketing, and sales organisation, and so on.

What is the #1 thing new SMEs need to know about export and trade?

You likely won’t have a super strong sales force at the beginning, so make sure you nail a great product/market fit before you try to scale. You really need to have a good product and solve a big problem.

What is your best advice about exporting?

There is no silver bullet. You have to do your best. Understand that exporting will really stretch your whole organization – marketing, communications, manufacturing… every department. The great thing is that we’re in an era where communication is very fast and there are many tools to leverage. You don’t need to be large company to use these tools. Find local partners to work with.