Many economists are forecasting sluggish growth in the Canadian economy for the next few years. Could this be a good time for businesses here in Ontario to begin looking for new customers overseas? I decided to reach out to a client who has a wealth of experience in exporting to pick his brain.
Jake Tamminga, the founder of Jaylor, came to Canada with his family in 1977. In 1993, he established the business of selling feed mixers to dairy and beef farmers. The mixers were manufactured to the specifications of an innovative design he had been inspired to create himself in answer to the limitations he saw in the market at that time. He now exports his product to 42 countries.
With a background in agriculture, perhaps it’s no surprise that Jake is quite down-to-earth. He has a host of interesting stories stocked from his experiences doing business in all corners of the world, and it quickly becomes clear that he is held in great respect by his trade partners.
All his world travelling has given him a broad palate, too. "I like everything,” he said, as we looked over the menu at The Tandoori Grill in Fergus. So now is a perfect time to get down to business. I asked him to tell me what would be important for someone to know if they are considering looking offshore for new customers. His advice is: "Do your research. Get to know your market. Don’t be afraid to spend some money. Don’t send someone else. Go yourself and stay some time. Be prepared to lay down lots of money, time and energy.”
Jaylor got their first overseas customer by advertising in an international paper. It was a U.K. company so there were fewer cultural or language issues, but there were still plenty of regulations that had to be understood and complied with. In fact, Jaylor now has three people employed nearly full-time just to keep abreast of laws and regulations in Canada and abroad. Certainly, Jake is very well informed with respect to the free trade deals that Canada has negotiated over the last few years. "Thank Prime Minister Steven Harper for his work in obtaining many free trade agreements for us, like CETA with Europe. It is the most favourable trade agreement that Canada has with anyone, and it’s up to business to take advantage of it.”
Knowing who to trust and getting them to trust you are perhaps the most important aspects. "You have to be a good judge of character and then check them out,” suggests Jake. In fact, there are resources to help. Canadian government representatives in most countries will do research for and with you. You can really validate yourself if your business is well recognized. It adds to your credibility if you’ve won lots of awards, have letters of recommendation from the government, or you have participated in trade missions. He suggests that you encourage potential customers to do research on you.
If you watch the news, you know that there is a great deal of instability in the world right now, and it is likely to get much worse. Jake’s advice for anyone just getting started as an exporter is to "find the more stable countries and focus there. Europe is safe and stable but there is more competition. Being first in a country certainly gives you a competitive advantage, but it is much riskier.”
Finally, Jake suggests that Canadians have a unique advantage: "Everyone loves Canadians, across the board. Universally, we have a reputation for common sense and fair play.”