Overseas trade shows can be valuable places to gather market research before trying to sell abroad -- especially when language and cultural barriers loom.

After success selling his Macintosh-computer-training videos at shows in Canada, Singapore, and Hong Kong, Randy Smith, CEO of Florida Marketing International's MacAcademy, tackled Europe. But his $9-million Ormond Beach, Fla., company was snubbed at an Amsterdam show; attendees bypassed its tapes, which were available in English only. "We knew they'd rather have a product in their own language," recalls Smith, "but we thought they'd buy the English one anyway."

Pulling back for more research, Smith stuck with trade shows to gather information and promote the company name. For a year and a half he spent one week every other month at foreign shows with attendees from up to 28 countries, soliciting advice from software reps, Macintosh dealers, manufacturers, and end-users. He postponed his attempt to sell in Holland, instead targeting the larger Spanish, French, and Japanese markets. Smith decided to reshoot his videos as requested by target customers, flying native-speaking teachers to Florida for filming instead of dubbing or using bilingual Americans. "It'll cost, but it'll be worth it," he says.

When MacAcademy attended Tokyo's MacWorld Asia show last February, the new tapes weren't available. But thanks to Smith's savvy offer to ship buyers the forthcoming Japanese version for free, English-language-tape sales were brisk. Smith expects to double his foreign sales this year, to 10% of his revenues. -- Phaedra Hise