In 2019, it was great hearing from Canadian businesses that were taking their expertise, their products and their services internationally. Whether it was an energy company, a husband and wife duo crafting all-natural beauty products, or a services company with an all-remote office, each business had the same ultimate goal—making an impact on the global stage.
Here, they share some guidance on how they prepared for international success.
Top advice from exporters in 2019
Stay true to your roots
Husband and wife duo, Alain Menard and Karen Clark, started The Green Beaver Company from their kitchen. They quickly turned their basement into a warehouse, and soon after they were knocking on the doors of small Canadian shops. Their business quickly grew to large retail chains, but before taking their success globally, they wanted to make sure their business in Canada had a solid strategy. That also meant they wanted to continue sourcing all of their products locally and make all of their products at home.
“Within our whole brand positioning, part of it is the fact that we are Canadian and if our business can be grown here, we use Canadian ingredients,” says Menard. “For us, making our products elsewhere wouldn’t work. It’s not part of our brand or who we are.”
Have a shared vision and put employees first
We heard from some service companies this year who mentioned the importance of having values and vision that all employees can share. Not only do they drive the business, but they also ensure everyone is on the same page. Sampler, a technology company that helps get companies’ product samples into the hands of targeted consumers, says having shared values drives stronger performance. And Shonezi Noor, chief of staff, says people at the top set the tone for the rest of the company.
“We want to be the best and we believe we can be. We’re all focused and aligned across the organization because we care about our work and each other. That leadership comes from the top down.”
Perkuto, a marketing automation consulting company based in Montreal, shared a similar message. CEO Alexandre Pelletier and his co-founder had a passion for the business, but also said having a flexible work environment was top of mind for them. “We wanted to create a business, but both agreed we didn’t want to be working 90 hours a week,” Pelletier says.
The company’s quick growth has seen them take on international contracts in Europe. Despite the strong success, Pelletier advises that it’s important to stay grounded and to protect the heart of your company—your employees. “Because at the end of the day, we truly believe that by having happy employees, we will have happy customers.”
Get connected and start small
When you’re entering a new market, there’s no doubt it will be easier if you’re well-connected. Aquatic Life, a water monitoring solutions company from Manitoba, was introduced to some large companies through EDC’s Business Connection Program. That support was crucial for the company’s international growth, but founder Jeff Simpson stresses the importance of starting small when it comes to exporting. “Become familiar with how to work with other countries and learn from EDC all about the specific markets you want to enter. Target a region or country and work on one at a time and build your success. It will come.”
Embrace the unknown
Going international can be daunting because you’re entering unfamiliar markets and could be faced with challenges you weren’t up against in the Canadian market. A few Canadian businesses shared that they decided to embrace the curve balls that came their way.
HockeyShot, a hockey-training company, pivoted their sales strategy for their synthetic ice product. The product is usually meant for a small, at-home training surface. However, after receiving a large contract from Mexico, HockeyShot realized there was a great opportunity. “We see a huge opportunity for our company to focus on something that is not only hockey, but more recreational and entertainment-based,” says Dan Desjardins, HockeyShot’s general manager.
A similar situation happened for Handling Specialty, a material handling company that started building scissor lifts for the automotive industry. After a second recession in the industry, the company started to diversify into different sectors. “I was frustrated with our life being run by one industry,” says Tom Beach, Handling Specialty’s CEO. The company went on to work in industries like energy and rail.
Pursuing innovation has been at the core of Handling Specialty’s growth, and now they’re working on automotive again, but in a new way. Automatically guided vehicles are now the focus of the business. “We’ve had to increase our manufacturing footprint to make AGVs. It’s big for us. I’m hoping in the next three years, it’s 25 to 30% of our business,” says Beach.
Talk to your banker
When it comes to getting financial products to support your global growth, many customers spoke to us about the importance of speaking with your banker.
Mike Furino, director of finance for the Montreal-based telehealth company, Dialogue, says his company got support from their financial institution and EDC through EDC’s Export Guarantee Program. Furino says the guarantee allowed the company to grow in Germany and adds that the process was smooth. “We were very happy to know that our bank had a great relationship with EDC. It was quite incredible, the amount of work that was done properly and diligently in so little time.”
When chemical measurement and analysis company Tornado Spectral Systems was getting an influx of international orders, they turned to their financial institution and to EDC to ensure they had enough cash flow to keep up. “EDC was wonderful in getting us connections with potential lenders. We were able to put an operating line in place so we could grow and have that working-capital comfort to buy inventory to supply our global orders,” says CEO Scott Baker.
We always love hearing from Canadian companies who are taking on the world. We look forward to sharing the stories of more inspiring Canadian businesses in 2020.