By Alysha Webb
Three Companies’ Insights Into Building Overseas Sales
“I believe this trip was a great success, and Advanced Clutch Technology (ACT) will expand into this new market as a result,” said Rich Barsamian (left), vice president of sales and marketing for ACT. “There is no substitution that takes the place of being there and seeing the market firsthand. I was amazed at how many vehicles in that region fit our import and domestic consumer demographic, much like in the U.S. market. The biggest difference I saw was that, rather than open many accounts, we were encouraged to limit distribution to allow for well-established WDs to fill the pipeline with product in this region.”
Participating in SEMA’s international trips has helped SEMA members open new markets and grow business in existing markets. But participants have also learned that preparation and follow-up are key to getting the most out of the investment.
SEMA-member company Hellwig Products, based in Visalia, California, participated in the 2015 SEMA Middle Eastern Program last March, looking for partners in the region who would invest in the company’s product line, including helping manage warranties. The trip was fruitful; Hellwig is now working with a company in the Middle East on some specialized products. Nonetheless, Melanie White, vice president of Hellwig Products, said that she wishes she had adapted Hellwig’s marketing message to the Middle East before taking the trip.
Prior to the trip, White sent e-mails introducing Hellwig’s sway-control products to the Middle Eastern companies that she knew were participating. In retrospect, she said that she should have done more.
“I wish I had done more research [on the companies participating] and geared my info to them more directly,” White said.
In the United States, Hellwig pitches itself as a family-owned business with a long history of selling a good-value product, said White. In the Middle East, she said, “the message should be geared more toward going fast. They want performance. They don’t care as much for a good value. They are okay with spending the money if they can go fast.”
The four-day SEMA trip included a measuring session; the opportunity to display at and visit Custom Show Emirates, a local trade show; networking with pre-vetted companies from 10 countries; and tours of local shops. Participants also met with U.S. Department of Commerce representatives.
Kathryn Reinhardt (far right, front), marketing manager at SEMA member MagnaFlow, a maker of exhaust systems, performance headers and performance mufflers, meeting with Middle Eastern buyers at the 2015 Custom Show Emirates.
The shop tours were very valuable, said Kathryn Reinhardt, marketing manager at SEMA member MagnaFlow, a maker of exhaust systems, performance headers and performance mufflers. MagnaFlow already has two distributors in the Middle East. Actually meeting with them and seeing their shops “helped us in understanding their needs, such as what additional products they wanted to carry, the way they displayed them, and the kind of display space they had,” said Reinhardt.
Now, MagnaFlow can price new products appropriately for its Middle Eastern customers, she said, including taking into account transit costs. The trip also gave her a better understanding of the market.
“I thought it was all expensive exotics being modified, but there are musclecars, SUVs, and gas and diesel trucks on road,” she said. “They want to look good and sound good. We are all in it for the same things.”
Seeing modified vehicles at the car show helped MagnaFlow predict future demand. Based in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, MagnaFlow has already created new marketing material for the Middle East.
“I saw 100 Jeeps with wheels and tires and lifts,” Reinhardt said. “Those are my consumers. Our product is the next modification they are going to do.”
SEMA-member Advanced Clutch Technology (ACT) of Lancaster, California, isn’t selling in the Middle East—yet. ACT’s Rich Barsamian participated in the SEMA trip to find partners. He is now negotiating with several companies.
SEMA-member company Hellwig Products, based in Visalia, California, participated in the 2015 SEMA Middle Eastern Program last March. Pictured is Melanie White, vice president of Hellwig Products.
Barsamian did extensive background reading before going on the trip and used SEMA data on the different types of vehicles on the road in the United Arab Emirates to determine if there was a market for his company’s clutch products.
“I was able to tell by the makes and models that there was enough of a manual-transmission market to make the trip worthwhile,” said Barsamian.
SEMA provided a list of pre-registered, pre-vetted buyers signed up to visit the trade-only SEMA section of the show. Barsamian sent three individual e-mails to them, inviting them to meet.
“I wanted to make sure that they knew I cared about them and that they were important to me,” Barsamian said.
He gained valuable insights into the region’s business culture, such as learning that potential partners want to spend time with you—including a home dinner—which generates trust.
“For them, to sit and eat with you is a big deal,” Barsamian said. “It is not just about signing a contract. That was a big difference to me.”
He met with some 80 companies and is keeping in touch with them via e-mail.
Hellwig’s White is headed back to the Middle East in late March with her sales manager to build on last year’s visit. She recommends SEMA trips as a good first step.
“If this is a market you want to explore, the SEMA trip is low cost as well as low investment in time,” she said. “The staff sets up all of the ground work for you to show up and have a successful trip.”