Roxanne Baumann, director
global engagement for the Wisconsin Manufacturing
Extension Partnership, right, congratulates
ExporTech graduates Chris Bessent, DVM, second from
right, and Robert Vialpando, both of Herbsmith Inc.,
while Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, left, watches on
Thursday at Waukesha County Technical College. Five
companies received certificates from WMEP for their
participation in ExporTech and creating plans for
PEWAUKEE - Speaking to five southeastern
Wisconsin companies who were about to graduate from
ExporTech with a plan for international distribution on
Thursday, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch said they were
strengthening their companies, and in turn, helping the
state by diversifying their customer base.
“I honestly believe that exports are the
future of Wisconsin’s economy,” she said to the
Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership
representatives and the graduating companies at Waukesha
County Technical College.
Kleefisch said she is looking forward to
sharing these businesses’ attributes with foreign
investors, such as the South Koreans she met last week.
“I feel like we have a room of
extraordinary businesses,” she said.
Robert Vialpando and Chris Bessent, DVM,
of Herbsmith Inc. in Hartland said they learned a lot
from the ExporTech program.
“To me it was this brick wall,” Bessent
said. “(I was) trying to run and not getting very far.”
During the program, Bessent said, she
learned about the good, the bad and the ugly regarding
exporting. She hopes international exporting will take
place for the company in the coming year. Herbsmith
creates herbal supplements for pets and horses.
Darrell Fink, retired vice president of
Americas sales for Harley-Davidson Motor Company and an
ExporTech grad, said it’s vital for a business to have a
strong export plan.
“You can have the best product in the
world, but if you have bad distribution, it doesn’t
matter,” he said.
There is some simplicity with exporting
because it tends to be easier to target potential
buyers. When dealing with a $30,000 motorcycle, it’s
best to target the 1 percent in developing countries
that can afford the bike.
At one time, Harley-Davidson had a huge
distribution problem, Fink said, because many of the
dealerships were run by mob members or members of biker
gangs and people were afraid to go into them. By
creating higher standards for dealers and changing its
distribution plans, Harley-Davidson was grew
domestically, as well as internationally.
His advice to graduating companies
Thursday was to first go for the easier foreign
countries for distribution and then on to the harder
Doug Biggs, vice president of sales and
marketing at Gilman Precision in Grafton, said his
company greatly benefited from ExporTech in creating a
plan to distribute its goods in Australia, Singapore and
“Keep your nose to the grindstone. There
will be days you hate to deal with it,” he said. “There
are days I hate to deal with it.”
But the benefits can be huge.
Biggs said Gilman Precision has had 1,000
percent growth in exports to Australia and in the high
hundreds percent increase to Singapore. Gilman Precision
recently expanded distribution into Canada, and Briggs
said they have given more quotes in two months than they
did in two years combined.
“You are going to grow your business.
You’re going to be a lot more successful and help the
state,” he said.
Rick Kettler, president and chief
operating officer for Wagner Company in Milwaukee, said
it’s advantageous to be flexible. He said his company
had intended to export to Germany, but Germans are crazy
about their own made products. But, then Wagner Company
was introduced to a South African distributor through a
“The devil’s in the details,” he said.
“Get terms and conditions right because if you don’t
Kettler also said it’s important to be
agile and ready to move on, such as if a country becomes
too tumultuous to continue to doing business there.
While it feels devastating, Kettler said it’s comparable
to losing a major client and figuring out a way to
Biggs said it’s also a good idea to have
at least one employee who flips his or her hours
regularly to handle the needs of clients in other time
While the graduating ExporTech companies
are leaving with a plan, Biggs said a company needs to
determine whether it should be in the “fast lane” or
“slow lane” depending on its circumstances.