Small companies may be missing some profitable export opportunities. But many companies don't know how to go about researching overseas markets. (For starters, see "Export Experts Close to Home," document number 07921172, July 1992.) You needn't be an international expert, but it helps to know the culture and economic trends that shape how business is conducted and products are sold in a given country.
Your packaging, price, and company name send a message to overseas customers. American Power Conversion, a Kingston, R.I., maker of computer-power supplies, learned that in France it was unwise to use its initials, APC, lest the company appear to be from the Far East (a faux pas in French society).
We surveyed state export agencies, market researchers, design firms, and export-minded CEOs about countries said to present good opportunities for American exporters. Our findings:
As in the rest of Eastern Europe, there's a pent-up demand for all things American, especially cheap consumer goods.
Hot Prospects: Inexpensive food, drink, and household products; high-tech office equipment.
Doing Business: The more American-looking the better, and the more packed your data sheets are -- bullets galore -- the more American you'll look. "Made in USA" carries weight here (as opposed to in France and Germany, where you want to downplay the fact). Countertrade agencies will handle barter for you, but for a fat fee. Convertible currency is a possibility if you have a Hungarian partner.
Cultural Dos and Don'ts: Western liquor makes a good gift.
A founding member of European Community, yet not seen as on par with France or Germany. That's quickly changing with Italy's eagerness to meet EC '92 standards.
Hot Prospects: Telecommunications, environmental technology, information technology. Also, surprisingly enough: clothes, accessories, and footwear.
Doing Business: In telecommunications, barriers to entry are less formidable here than in France and Germany, where local companies have the market locked up; opportunities exist for small U.S. companies to sell telecommunications subcomponents by teaming up with large American phone companies. (Ditto in Spain and Hungary.) For fashion, must make your way to hundreds of specialty shops, which sell higher-end, branded products. Dealing with Italian distributors is tough, so some apparel companies opt for licensing.
Cultural Dos and Don'ts: Don't underprice. If you do, consumers might assume your product's defective.
Sweeping economic reforms make it easier for U.S. companies to satisfy renewed desire for American-made products. Import tax down to 10% from 40%.
Hot Prospects: High technology; environmental businesses; construction; medical products; household goods.
Doing Business: Like dealing with small businesses that show interest in long-term deals. Invest in local service and training.
Cultural Dos and Don'ts: Avoid talk of illegal aliens.
The Olympics, World's Expo, and Columbus celebration -- how can you lose? For some, a great springboard into Europe.
Hot Prospects: Environmental businesses; high technology; consumer goods.
Doing Business: Unlike Italy, Spain has big department stores, so in the fashion industry it's possible to appeal to one buyer rather than dozens of distributors. But consumer-product companies are expected to make a big up-front investment in local marketing to create demand.
Cultural Dos and Don'ts: Avoid disparaging remarks about bullfighting. In Madrid a business dinner starts at 11 p.m.
National directive to buy American. GNP and standard of living are up.
Hot Prospects: Environmental and transportation services; computer software and services; fashion and pop-culture items.
Doing Business: Same standards of excellence as Japan, but easier and faster to do business with than Japan. English is second language, but don't go overboard. Packaging must be in both languages.
Cultural Dos and Don'ts: Don't discuss mainland China.
-- Susan Greco