While living in Tokyo, Japan, in 1987, Jeff Henderson created SPAP COMPANY LLC formed as an international manufacturer representative agency and consultancy to help U.S. companies sell their products into overseas markets. While objective observers, both here and abroad, know that U.S. goods are the most innovative in the world, roughly only twelve percent of U.S. companies have entered into international distribution channels. How can this be accounted for? Some of the main reasons are:
The self-satisfaction with the lucrative market within our own borders Lack of flexibility in creating products for foreign markets An overriding emphasis by management for immediate results An absence in our business culture for creating sales networks overseas
With these guidelines in mind, SPAP realized that there was a need by U.S. manufacturers for international representation. Having lived and studied in Japan for two years in the late 1980’s, it became quite apparent to Jeff that all types of export opportunities were going unclaimed by U.S. companies in foreign markets. This was not so much out of indifference; it had more to do with a lack of time, experience and/or the personnel that knew how to build the type of business networks beyond our shores that would enable the companies to export their products in a more systematic fashion. There are many U.S. drilling/oil/energy-related companies that have technology or products that they can sell as finished goods or license to foreign companies; however, if these U.S. companies do not have a presence in front of foreign buyers, any international business they happen to get will be random. Purposeful unawareness of foreign markets is an open ticket to foreign competitors to get the sale without competition – foreign competitors that might one day grow strong enough to start taking on U.S. companies right here in North America.
With a BA in Mass Communications, a minor in comparative literature and a teaching degree, Jeff started out selling various U.S. products to only Japan; he now has customers in roughly thirty countries. One of his first goals was getting U.S. companies to think more globally. “For the outside world of commerce to be engaged”, says Jeff, “we should quit surrendering markets because of our overwhelming preoccupation with our own domestic marketplace. When I can show a client and/or international principal how we all can prosper by working together, we have all broken through the thicket of preconceptions that usually halt such initiative. It is becoming quite apparent that with the end of the cold war our economic system, college education system, the phenomena of venture capital and our country’s entrepreneurial spirit have all converged to create vast quantities of useful, exciting and cutting edge products and services. The challenge has been and remains in getting U.S. manufacturers to devote the time and resources to make overseas sales a part of their ongoing business plan. Collectively, we avoid foreign markets at the expense of our overall economy. Our competitors have done their homework and are digging in; it will be much more difficult to achieve market share after we finally realize the negative consequences of our inaction.
SPAP COMPANY LLC has 11+ years of international trade experience with a large emphasis on Asia. Jeff has traveled to Asia about 15 times, as well as having traveled to western Europe, Russia, northern Africa and the Levant. What differentiates his company from other rep agencies is not only the scope of the operations, but his research ability in placing the product in front of foreign buyers. Jeff related eagerly: “I am constantly doing research to connect the dots between principals on a global basis. I love what I do and the research allows me to see trends and opportunities for U.S. products, technologies and services. Still, I am aware that the human instinct is to narrow down the scope of experience in order to better manage what we are able to do. And U.S. companies abide by this same instinct. This dynamic, combined with some past negative experience by the manufacturer in international markets, is always a tough nut to crack. Nonetheless, there are few jobs I would trade for. A purely domestic occupation would not afford me the different people and experiences that I get working in international markets.
“My greatest challenge is getting U.S. companies to think more broadly. The outside world of commerce is to be engaged, and we should be tending to the building of international networks now in anticipation of the day when more and more markets have the means to buy our goods and services. It is no riddle why Japan and Germany are so proficient in exporting their products. With the absolute devastation of each their country’s economies at the end of World War II, they forced themselves to move commercially into areas of the world where they had once invaded militarily. With the incredible economy we enjoy here in the U.S., it seems highly unlikely that a similar imperative will manifest in the minds of our manufacturers. So, on a case by case basis, it comes down to the wills of the management of certain U.S. manufacturers who can look into the future and decide that they do not want to be on the business end of questions from their stockholders, workers and respective communities as to, for example, what they were doing at the turn of the century when Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey were preparing to route multiple million of gallons of oil to the Mediterranean? Twenty years after the fact, Xerox shareholders are still grinding their teeth that even with their company’s development of some of the core technology of computing, they had to abandon much of the computer market to Microsoft, Apple, etc. because their management was not paying attention.
“There is a lot of consolidation and deregulating going on in the oil/energy fields that I sell into in Asia. Most significantly, these companies are all trying to become markedly more efficient, and I think U.S. products and services, such as software, can be of immeasurable help to their respective industries. But, we can never be sure unless we get U.S. companies that make these types of products into the game with a set program of steps to increase visibility. If international buyers do not know that a certain U.S. company even exists, it does not take a great leap of imagination to guess which company is going to get the business.
“My future goals”, concludes Jeff, “include adding to my line card oil related companies who want to sell overseas and have products that can make a positive contribution to my customer’s companies. For the oil industry, I am looking for more U.S. companies that want to get involved in Japan, Korea and the oil business in the Caspian region.
“Being single affords me the opportunity to pursue various pastimes: i.e., comparative religions, astronomy, travel, reading, writing and exercise.”
By Mary Ann Pelletier, Managing Editor, NATIONAL DRILLER