If you’ve ever wondered who produces the machinery that helps process foods you buy in grocery stores or at restaurants, it may be our manufacturing operation in Canada’s smallest province.

Charlottetown Metal Products (CMP) has been in business for more than a half-century, but its global success is relatively recent. At its inception, the company-built equipment for seafood processing, steel culverts and horseshoes.

Today, CMP focuses exclusively on the design and manufacture of products for the food-processing industry, including conveyor systems, process tanks, cookers and chillers.

This year, our 90-person company with sales offices in Saint John, N.B., Québec City, Qué. and Boise, Idaho, is poised to top $20 million in sales. Much of that is due to our focus on finding customers across the world.

The bulk of our international customers are in the U.S., but we also do business in India, China, Chile and Argentina, to name a few.

Securing international customers has been a learning process, but it’s helped us grow faster and made us more resilient to economic ups and downs. Upon reflection, I came up with five tips for similarly ambitious Canadian manufacturers.

Understand your productivity

Measuring labour efficiency and effectiveness is important when you’re competing against the best in the world. The only way manufacturers win globally is by leveraging competitive gains from innovative designs and increased production efficiency.

In Atlantic Canada, the gross domestic product (GDP) per hour is the lowest in the country. Manufacturers here have to focus on continuous improvement in order to be competitive, even domestically. Given that reality, we must prioritize good leadership and lean operations.

We hired an external consultant to identify and eliminate waste and help us improve our processes. In manufacturing, continuous improvements in design and production capability are necessary to stay ahead. We know we must continuously raise the bar on performance if we want to be a global leader.

Be the best you can be domestically before going global

Competitors in the U.S. and elsewhere have incredible depth. Competing on cost when you’re shipping product over thousands of kilometres can be expensive, especially when competitors have advantageous cost positions on labour and materials.

And it’s even more expensive to have to fly people in to fix equipment if something goes wrong.

Honing your efficiency and improving your productivity at home will put you in a better position to take on competitors internationally.

Know the rules

Understand what is possible and what’s not when it comes to the rules and regulations of exporting. If there’s a trade agreement in place, it presents another layer of required reading and knowledge. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), for example, allows us to send a crew to the U.S. to install our equipment. Because we know exactly what the agreement says, we can go to the U.S., present the proper paperwork and contracts at the border and our people have free and easy access.

If your employees head south and they’re not prepared or they’re confused about what to communicate at the border, there’s always a chance they’ll be rejected. This can negatively affect project schedules and disappoint clients.

Study your competitors

In global bids, you won’t be competing against your usual domestic counterparts. We rarely bid on contracts against Canadian firms in the United States.

Competitors can be diverse. We have a host of different competitors depending on which state or area in the U.S. our client is located. 

We spend significant time identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) of our prospective competitors in the markets we plan to enter.

It’s not easy to position yourself ahead of a local supplier. Clients want to know how you can serve them well when you’re 6,000 kilometres away. The Canadian business brand is strong and Canadian firms have good reputations worldwide. But clients still want to know why they should deal with you when you’re so far away from their operations. You need to have compelling answers to that question or establish a local presence in the market. If you’re not clear on why you stand out, you will be significantly challenged to succeed in the export market.

Communicate the “why”

When communicating your value proposition with prospective customers, you need excellent marketing tools and skills. In industrial manufacturing, many of our peers can talk about what they do, but talking about why they do it is a different story. The concept of “why” is harder to pinpoint, but it is an important brand differentiator. Once you nail it down, it will ignite your marketing strategy.

We spent some time thinking about why we do what we do and came up with the tagline: “We keep food safe.” In just four words, we can explain exactly what we do and why. Now that we have that, we’re devoting significant resources to our rebranding message, with a new website launch scheduled for September 2018 that will tell a more powerful story about our why. Stay tuned.