A Utah-based manufacturer is expanding in North Africa thanks to a connection it made more than two years ago at a trade show in the United States. Their success underscores the fact that U.S. companies interested in new markets overseas can find potential partners without ever leaving home.
Verti-Crete LLC, a Salt Lake City-based manufacturer of precast concrete wall systems, has license partners around the world. The company connected with buyers from Modelco, an Algerian company at the 2016 World of Concrete show, a trade show for their industry. The result was a long-term deal for Modelco to represent the American company in Algeria.
“This wasn't just somebody that saw us in a trade magazine," says Mike Sharp, president of Verti-Crete. "A representative from the U.S. Deptartment of Commerce introduced us to one of the principals of Modelco at our booth in 2016. That really helped give us some context on who this company was, and how we could work together."
Sharp said it ultimately took more than a year to sign a contract. But, he expects the deal to lead to more than a million dollars in exports. “The value of the deal goes far beyond the purchase order," Sharp adds. “We know we have a partner in Algeria that we are really comfortable with for the long-term."
Go Where the Buyers Are
Perhaps the most significant advantage of participating in any trade show is that it brings qualified buyers together in one place. The 2018 World of Concrete Show attracted 58,222 attendees, including 7,385 international buyers, says Jackie James, group director for the World of Concrete.
“International attendees interested in your product may not have been able to see your actual product, other than online," says James. “So this is the perfect opportunity for them to meet in person with you and your team."
—Larry Kulchawik, author, Trade Shows from One Country to the Next
Companies serious about connecting with buyers need to invest in a booth at the shows they attend. “It is much easier from a home base, such as your own booth, if connecting with the audience of the show is your goal," says James. “It is always frowned upon for non-exhibitors to solicit at a trade show, so best to make the investment like other exhibitors, and greet attendees and potential buyers from your own exhibit to make your connections."
Finally, suggests James, make sure to follow up on leads. “It is all too easy to get back home and get busy," she says. “It is beneficial to follow up and thank international visitors for stopping by the booth, and that also allows you to provide them with any additional information you might want them to receive."
Locating the right trade show for your business is often as easy as contacting the leading trade association serving your industry. The World of Concrete is one of about 9,400 B2B trade shows held every year in the United States, according to Center for Exhibition Industry research. An industry trade show run by Informa Exhibitions, the World of Concrete is also a long-time participant in the Commerce Department's International Buyer Program.
Let Business Come to You
Domestic trade shows provide a perfect opportunity to meet international buyers in the United States. Exporters at International Buyer Program shows can connect with international buyers at the show's International Business Pavilion, a special booth that caters to non-U.S. attendees. Exhibitors also can participate in a matchmaking program at select shows. The program, called “Showtime," includes one-on-one meetings with U.S. government trade specialists.
For newbies to trade shows, it's often advisable to attend a show before exhibiting at it. “It's not a bad idea to visit as an attendee before deciding to be an exhibitor," says Larry Kulchawik, author of Trade Shows from One Country to the Next. “This gives you a good feel for the lay of the land."
Kulchawik also encourages exporters to do their homework about overseas markets they are interested in. “Seeking out and selling to international buyers at a trade show will require good face-to-face communication skills," he says. “Adapting to their way of thinking can be a tricky matter, but take the time to research."
Trade shows create an opportunity to meet potential buyers and cultivate relationships with potential business partners. Connecting in person, says Kulchawik, is an essential component of relationship selling. “People buy from people they know and trust," he says.
Because trade shows can be time-consuming and expensive, exporters need to generate enough business to make them worthwhile. But, remember, it can take time for a trade show connection to evolve into a deal.
Often, a conversation at a trade show is just the beginning of the sales process. “International buyers will have layers of people internally they need to process the information before making a decision to buy," says Kulchawik. “Many meetings may need to happen before a final decision can be made. Patience is needed to achieve success internationally."