Domes International

The Company

For developing countries in need of efficient, inexpensive housing, a Mississippi based company with their International Sales Office in Memphis has just the thing: domes. Domes International, Inc. manufactures its bulbous structures out of molded fiberglass. Some look like igloos, others like marshmallows. Among the most attractive benefits of fiberglass domes is their low maintenance. Termite resistant and energy efficient, they also protect against dangerous weather conditions, including severe monsoons that cause horrific damage and loss of life in certain areas of the world.

The Challenge

When Domes International decided to expand internationally, it was already selling houses to the U.S. military for faraway bases on tropical islands. Domes’ Director of International Business Development and Marketing Steve Pope was assigned the job. He is also President of World Discoveries, Inc., an Export/Import and International Manufacturing/Marketing Consulting Company based in Memphis, TN, who is contracted with Domes for their Global Manufacturing Operations.

A Domes International Structure
A Domes International Structure

The Solution

Pope contacted his local Export Assistance Centers in Memphis, Tennessee, and Jackson, Mississippi. After talking with trade specialists at the centers, Pope and his company decided to focus on India. The combined forces of the U.S. Commercial Service in Mumbai, Delhi, and the United States provided Pope with market research and help on doing business with the Indian government, including contacts within the government who might be interested in purchasing domes. They included officials from Gujarat state who needed to house thousands of homeless families. The state placed an order, and later the Indian military as well.

Pope and his partners soon realized they needed a facility in India to assemble components shipped from the United States. Having a local facility is a “win–win,” Pope says, because the “jobs created help the local economy, while we benefit stateside by providing the higher-end components.” The Commercial Service then helped Domes International apply for a $1.2 million U.S. government–backed loan from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. Then, when the first shipment of the fiberglass molds and machinery got hung up in customs, Commercial Service officials helped retrieve them and arranged for operating permits and inspection protocols. Additionally, the U.S. Commercial Service offices in Mumbai, New Delhi, and Ahmedabad, India helped in obtaining some necessary product registration certificates from the Indian Ministry of Commerce.

These early experiences led to more sales as Domes International began to adapt the product to fit local needs. Domes can be used as offices, schools, military barracks, and warehouses. A religious group is interested in replacing more expensive marble temples with fiberglass domes. You never know what new opportunities might arise when you’re on the ground observing what people need.

In another case, a government client for a school building pointed out that people in one part of their state considered round structures with a hole in them as kind of a temple of doom and gloom. “Local folks wouldn’t go near them. So we developed flat fiberglass panels and added ribs and steel struts for strength.” It became a more acceptable box, not a dome, Pope explains.

“We couldn’t have done any of this without the U.S. Commercial Service,” says Pope, who also called on the organization to make inroads into Afghanistan, Niger, Nigeria, and other countries in the Middle East and Africa. “Thanks to the Commercial Service, we have opened our factory in Ahmedabad and are selling houses, schoolrooms, and warehouses in the surrounding area.”

Lessons Learned

One lesson Pope has learned is to be flexible: “Our initial business plan was based on the then current oil prices (Domes’ raw materials are 70 percent petroleum based). We went [to India] expecting to sell lots of single-family homes, and by the time we finally opened our factory, oil prices had doubled, and hence our raw materials as well. We discovered the better market was local governments and the military. We had to go there, make this discovery, then adjust on the fly.”

“There’s no doubt that Domes International is a better company as a result of our experience in India,” Pope says. “We are much more flexible and also innovative. The client wanted a less expensive structure, so we went back to our labs and came up with an insulation solution that met their needs. Now we use these discoveries to improve core products and to offer more variations. We are much more confident going into new situations—listening, adapting, and finding the best solution. That we’ve been able to transform through our experiences overseas in just a few years is amazing.”

Action

Is your company considering entering an emerging market? If so, here are some things you can do, according to Doug Barry of the U.S. Commercial Service and editor of A Basic Guide to Exporting from which this case study comes:

  • Conduct market research. Big emerging markets like India have a lot of potential for U.S. exporters. A good place to start your research of this market of more than 1 billion people is to visit www.buyusa.gov/india/en. Operated by the Commercial Service India, the site includes current market research, information about trade shows, and updates about changing customs laws. The site also offers Featured U.S. Exporters, where U.S. businesses can present product information, including photos and company contact information.
  • Visit the market. One way to find out if a market is right for your product is to visit it. Luckily, it’s easier today than ever to make the most out of your travel dollars. Consider the Commercial Service’s AsiaNow program. With it, you can attend a trade show in Singapore, meet with prospective buyers in Malaysia, and then fly north several hours to the booming Indian city of Bangalore for more buyer meetings and product demonstrations. The Commercial Service arranges everything, including hotels. Visit www.buyusa.gov/asianow.
  • Promote your company in target markets. You might also want to advertise in Commercial News USA. The catalog-style magazine is designed to help American companies promote products and services to buyers in more than 145 countries at a fraction of the cost of other advertising options. Each issue reaches an estimated 400,000 readers worldwide. The bimonthly magazine, which is free, is mailed directly to qualified recipients outside the United States and is distributed by Commercial Service personnel at U.S. embassies and consulates throughout the world. See www.buyusa.gov/asianow.
  • Secure funding. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), established as a development agency of the U.S. government in 1971, helps U.S. businesses invest overseas and fosters economic development in new and emerging markets. OPIC evaluates all project applications on the basis of their contribution to economic development. OPIC projects also support American jobs and exports. For more information, visit www.opic.gov.
  • Get help with your shipping needs. If you have found a buyer but have questions about shipping or customs clearance issues, visit the National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America at www.ncbfaa.org.

This success story is also featured in our publication A Basic Guide to Exporting: The Official Government Resource for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses. To purchase this book, please visit the U.S. Government Bookstore.

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The U. S. Commercial Service is a U. S. Department of Commerce agency that helps small-and medium-sized U. S. businesses sell their products and services globally. With its network of offices across the United States and in more than 80 countries, the U.S. Commercial Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration utilizes its global presence and international marketing expertise to help U.S. companies sell their products and services worldwide. For more information, visit www.Export.gov.