Reputation vital for successful exporters

SME exporters say word-of-mouth referrals, long term relationship building and proven reputation are among the keys to their expansion.

Being known as world leaders in their field has helped two SME manufacturers find success across their export market. Word-of-mouth referrals, long term relationship building and proven reputation are among the keys to their expansion.

Winning the contract to build the revolving flooring platform for the world’s largest revolving restaurant in Iran has solidified Australian Turntable Company (ATC)’s expansion into the Middle East (ME). The regional Victorian based family company, which engineers and manufactures rotational movement systems, is also now scoring export success in Iraq, Qatar and Dubai.

Late last year ATC gained an exciting new project to build 61 revolving rooms for one of UAE’s leading property managers. The multi million-dollar development in Dubai by Omniyat Properties will enable ATC to employ more than 20 people to complete the project in 2010.

ATC’s Finance Director, Todd Chapman, said the company completed the 50m diameter platform and turntable for the Iranian revolving restaurant 12 months ago.

“The $3m turntable project was signed off and paid in full. The restaurant is scheduled to open in mid 2010, Chapman told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

He explained that ‘word of mouth’ referrals and the ME’s love of revolving restaurants has assisted ATC to also win contracts for the revolving restaurants in Iraq and Qatar.

With the contracts drawn up in $US, Chapman said the strong Australian dollar makes exporting a little more difficult, especially since it was 60 to 70 cents to the $US when the company first started business in the ME.

Chapman said ATC’s key to success in exporting to ME was persistence and relationship building.

“When we first ventured into this market, we were told it would take five to seven years. We took our first order after five years.

“For Iran in particular, patience is a virtue as everything happens very slowly. The Iranian contract was a constantly evolving document and as all meetings were in Persian, we needed to place our trust in the interpreter. However, English was used in meetings in the other ME countries where we have projects.”

Chapman said attending Austrade and Victorian government’s trade missions to the region, helped the company promote its products and meet potential business partners. Federal government R&D grants and Austrade’s Export Market Development Grants also allowed the company to persist in gaining entry into these markets.

Chapman said exports represent around 60% of the company’s sales at present, but expects that will increase to 80% in the next two to three years, with new distributors to be appointed.

Solar sails

Another global leader in its field, Solar Sailor Holdings, is building and supplying a solar sail for the Suntech World Expo tourist boat, due to be launched in time for the World Expo in Shanghai in May 2010.

The mechanism for the solar sail is being built at the company’s premises in Sydney and Ulladulla, south of Sydney and will then be shipped to the Shanghai shipyard and installed.

Solar Sailor’s CEO Robert Dane said the company is building the bare wing and applying the solar panels in China.

“The completed wing will be delivered to the shipyard in March next year and then fitted to the mechanism.

“The sail will include lightweight solar panels from Suntech and will be the largest solar sail we have built to date,” Dane told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

The innovative marine technology company designs and provides solar sails and hybrid marine power (HMP) for marine vessels in Australia and internationally.

This year’s contract sales reached $2.5m with just six employees in Australia, but works closely with contractors on overseas projects.

The Shanghai contract follows on from the company’s earlier success in Hong Kong. Solar Sailor and Schneider Electric signed a contract this May outlining Schneider Electric’s commitment to provide 190/25kW HMP systems, incorporating Schneider Electric automation and power technology, for four hybrid solar electric ferries for Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust.

As well as supplying the solar sails and HMP systems, Solar Sailor is working closely with the boat builder and naval architect, to ensure integration with the boat. The first ferry was completed in October for trial and then launched for travel in November.

Dane said the success in China comes from ongoing business relationships over several years and ‘word of mouth’ referral.

Dane said one of the challenges of doing business in China were the high number of people in companies.

“People you meet at one meeting may not appear at the next meeting. This is very frustrating, so you need to be consistent and at some point be prepared to walk away.

“They may call you back after several months and the project may be a priority again. If it makes sense for both sides it will happen and you certainly require a lot of patience.”

As well as Asia, Dane says Solar Sailor has contracts for design and supply to ferry operators in US, and the UAE. The company’s US minority owned subsidiary UOV LLC Virginia has just signed a contract with the US Navy for the development of unmanned ocean vehicles over the next 18 months.

Dane said the strong Australian dollar has not affected the company’s business in China as both the Hong Kong and Shanghai contracts are in Australian dollars.