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Your market may be bigger than you think

Aug. 5, 2015
Trailer/body Builders July 2015 editorial

DOES your company serve only customers within a certain radius of your shop or dealership? Or maybe your company is a small regional manufacturer whose most ambitious dream is someday going national.

You may be missing the boat.

As we meet with businesses large and small, we are surprised by how frequently local and regional companies get orders from hundreds, maybe even thousands of miles away. Dozens of similar companies may be closer, but the customer chooses to do business with this particular one.

For years experts have been telling us that we are losing our manufacturing base. That we can’t compete internationally. That the best that we can hope for is to service the stuff that is built elsewhere.

But is that really valid? Global competition cuts both ways. Other countries have consumers, too. Why not sell to them?

Many in the truck equipment industry are doing just that. Last year was another good one for exports of truck bodies and equipment, according to figures compiled by the United States International Trade Commission. For 2014, the agency valued an array of truck body and equipment exports, including more than $113 million in truck mounted cranes and other lifting devices, more than $51 million worth of snowplows and snow blowers, $85 million in truck caps, and almost $130 million in various unmounted truck bodies.

Completed vehicles drove last year’s figures substantially higher: just under $687 million for buses, $17 million for ambulances and other specialized transporters, $118 million for dump trucks, $98 million in mobile drilling derricks, $352 million for fire apparatus, and $67 million for concrete mixers.

Add them all up, and you get almost $1.7 billion in sales to international customers in 2014. But that is far less than the actual total. As NTEA explains, the $1.7 billion only includes products that have official Harmonized Tariff Schedule numbers. Many common truck equipment products such as toolboxes go uncounted because they do not have code numbers. Bottom line, no one knows exactly how much truck equipment was exported last year. But from our perspective, even $1.7 billion is a long way from chump change.

So who is buying? Canada and Mexico are by far the commercial truck industry’s top trading partners. Following those two countries are Australia, China, Brazil, Germany, Japan, and South Korea.

Trailer manufacturers also are marketing internationally. Over the course of its long history as an American manufacturer, Great Dane has historically focused its business activities on the U.S. marketplace. More recently, however, the company has increased its presence in international markets including Canada, Mexico and South America—and even indirectly into China through the company’s affiliation with the Ice Bear refrigerated truck body joint venture.

Trailer dealers also are expanding their horizons. Jeff Barber, Interstate Trailer & Equipment in Cincinnati, Ohio, is the incoming president of the National Trailer Dealers Association. One of his objectives during his term in office will be to expand the association’s presence outside the United States. He considers trailer dealers located outside our borders to be a good source for potential NTDA members. But beyond that, he also sees international outreach by trailer dealers as being consistent with what his major supplier, Utility, is doing in other countries.

Of course, selling internationally is a different way of doing business. According to Brandie Fuller, Great Dane’s vice-president of marketing, the challenges faced when competing in Canada are much like those trailer manufacturers face with their U S customers. But other markets can present an entirely different set of challenges. Language differences. Tariffs that locals don’t have to pay. Plus today’s strong dollar that puts many countries at a price advantage.

“This makes it critically important to sell the benefits of premium products that are built to last, including enhanced operational efficiencies and lower total cost of ownership,” she says.

Technology helps make it possible to deliver that message. Even a small company can have a big territory. You place a Skype call to someone in Toledo or Tunisia with equal ease.

Technology is helping Great Dane and others bridge the gap in ways that used to be impossible. Web-based tools and other digital marketing products make it much easier to update catalogs and deliver product information to dealers and customers halfway around the world.

The world may be getting smaller, but the market is expanding. They call it the World Wide Web for a reason. Maybe you can use it to sell someone something in a market you didn’t know existed. ♦