Did you have a strenuous and tiring work week? Then maybe you could use some nutritional supplements. Certified Worldwide LLC (CW) has made health and nutrition its business. Hal Selim, director of business development for CW, says his company’s success doesn’t just hinge on the more than 10,000 products and 500 lines of over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, supplements, and sports nutrition; it also depends on great worldwide customer service.
Located in Moorpark, California, CW started in 1999 with sales to distributors and to online customers in the United States through its e-commerce Web site (www.medicalprovisions.com). CW then began to pursue international opportunities by identifying overseas distributors who could help streamline the selling process abroad. “We recognized that by not exporting, we were not tapping our full sales potential—sort of like leaving money on the table,” says Selim.
Equipped with freight forwarders and potential overseas buyers, Selim focused his attention on making export sales a reality. He soon began learning the ins and outs of import regulations for foreign countries and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) export certification issues, such as obtaining the health certificates that many foreign countries require for health-related products. Addressing these issues was key to navigating the export process.
Selling health-related products in the international market also requires extensive market and economic research. Each market has its own consumer tastes and ways of doing business. For example, in Asia, people might want joint pain and muscle relief, whereas in other countries, people might have heart-related needs. To supplement his marketing strategy, Selim tracked down specific information on health industries in Europe, the Far East, the Middle East, and other regions.
“When you think about the documentation required and other areas where we needed assistance, it was sort of daunting as to where we would begin,” Selim says. “But we knew through our business acquaintances that we could count on the U.S. Commercial Service to help.”
During his initial meeting with Selim, Gerald Vaughn, director of the U.S. Export Assistance Center in Ventura, set up a plan to assist CW. First, Vaughn contacted key Commercial Service trade specialists on the Health Care Technologies Team. Tony Michalski and Julieanne Hennessy were familiar with FDA and could connect with the right people. Next, Vaughn gained insight into the FDA approval process. Shortly thereafter, Vaughn contacted the Commercial Service’s health care trade specialists overseas and discussed certificate issues, thus laying the foundation for obtaining the required health documents. Vaughn then introduced Selim to the Commercial Service’s Country Commercial Guides, which provide detailed market research on different industries and countries.
“Without the experience and on-the-ground support of the U.S. Commercial Service, we would not have surpassed the export challenges that we met early on when we began exporting,” Selim says. “Had we tried this on our own, we would not be as well positioned in international markets as we are today.”
Early on, CW learned that the best way to build a good business is to get background information on potential distributors beforehand. CW receives payment up front in the form of bank wire transfer or letter of credit. A typical scenario is to receive a 30 percent deposit when the customer places the order and the remaining 70 percent balance before shipping the order. “Getting paid is a key part to running a business, and unless a company has the right payment policies in place, that company is more likely to be subjected to payment scams,” says Selim.
CW also learned that the cost of freight can make or break a deal. Selim has worked extensively on building key relationships with freight forwarders. His efforts have resulted in great air and ocean rates for customers. CW’s freight forwarders can ship almost anywhere. “Seek out your local Commercial Service office, contact and interview different freight forwarders, and remember that the company chosen will be responsible for shipping your product,” says Selim. Airlines are a great source for finding freight forwarders. Their cargo departments work directly with freight forwarders and can recommend which ones to use for the product line. “Also,” Selim advises, “depending on the size of the shipment, freight damage and theft insurance is vital.”
The more business you give your freight forwarder, the more valuable you become. As shipments grow, you can set up agreements to obtain better rates. Also, you can shop for competitive rates. If you find a better rate than what you already have, see if your freight forwarder can match it. Your customer overseas may also be able to find a better rate. “The better the rate, the better the savings for your customer, which translates into more business in the future,” says Selim.
Selim says the following elements are crucial in an export operation:
Feasibility studies are vital as you develop overseas markets. When conducting the study, address factors such as market size, market growth, accessibility, competition, business practices, and economic stability. Exporting overseas has introduced CW to many different cultures, business practices, and legal systems and has made CW’s management team more flexible and creative.
Are you ready to promote your product in other countries? Here are some tips:
Keeping the World Healthy