Some small businesses have had significant success in expanding to overseas markets. Orly International Inc., which makes nail care products, is a 105-employee firm in Van Nuys. Its foreign sales growth now outpaces the annual increases in domestic sales.
"We just have seen such a growth opportunity in our export business that we have accelerated that emphasis to build more export markets," said Bob Hobe, Orly's vice president for international business development.The company exports to 82 countries and is looking toward Latin America for further expansion. Hobe cited Brazil, Chile and Argentina as examples of countries that "have had continuous growth even in the global recession."
Most of California's exporters are small and don't venture too far afield — Mexico and Canada are the top two countries for the state's exports.
"There is a lot of potential to go beyond our little regional corridor here, beyond Canada and Mexico," said Richard Swanson, director of the Pacific South region for the U.S. Commercial Service, an arm of the Commerce Department.
But small-business owners who want to get into exporting face a number of obstacles, especially if they want to move beyond North America. They have to find trusted overseas partners to handle distribution. They have to deal with shipping logistics and sort out sometimes-complicated import duties.
Also, some businesses fear their intellectual property will be stolen if they sell a product overseas. This issue has come up particularly in dealings with China.
"If there were no constraints, if there were no challenges and we knew no one would rip us off, then everyone would be exporting," said Suresh Kumar, assistant secretary for trade promotion at the Commercial Service.
Among the Commercial Service's resources are industry-specific counseling, trade missions and conferences for companies that want to export to new markets.
Information is available online at http://www.export.gov and at the Commercial Service's export assistance centers across the country, including in downtown Los Angeles, West Los Angeles, Newport Beach, Ontario and Ventura.
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