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By John Chabut, Stewart Industries

John Chabut in APTech boothDon’t make my mistake! I was underestimating and putting off an APTech member company benefit for far too long. I’m referring to APTech’s trade missions. Here’s a summary of the key benefits I missed:

  • 50% state funding of trade missions and several other export-development costs
  • Foreign business development assistance recognized to be more effective than generic state and federal methods
  • Face-to-face introductions to reputable in-country market segment expertise and potential trading partners
  • Interactive discussions exploring ways to mutually increase business opportunities in the foreign country and in the USA
  • Focused time with other APTech members to share export experiences and learn from them
  • An incredible experience and new friends I’ll have for the rest of my life

Going on the 2019 APTech Trade Mission to India was about the furthest thought from my mind last September at PRINT 2018. My company has 20 full-time equivalent employees and we build, sell, and service equipment for a few niche market segments in the print-packaging industry. We have very little time and money to spend on growing our export opportunities.

So, when APTech’s Vinod Vittoba and Pernilla Jonsson visited our small booth at PRINT 2018, I went immediately into the mode of “I have better things to do right now” and gave them, admittedly, far less than half of my attention at the time. They reminded me about the upcoming APTech trade mission to India that I remembered vaguely from past newsletters. Then one of them said my company’s home state would most likely fund half of the trade mission. Suddenly, my attention to them increased.

I contacted my state’s exporting organization and confirmed the 50% funding. Vinod and Pernilla made the registration and arrangements quick and easy. Vinod made several calls to me to understand my goals for the trade mission. Then, he arranged one-on-one meetings for me with several reputable contacts within my company’s niche markets. He also sent exhibitor lists focused according to my goals. Pernilla sent eye-opening reports on the India print-packaging market. I was “loaded for bear” by the time I reached New Delhi for my eight-day trip.

Outside of the sheer delight of being immersed in a different culture, the trip proved to be quite useful in how we would begin to approach market opportunities. Most importantly, understanding if there is opportunity, how much is there, then determine how we would potentially go to market. What we assumed were the opportunities weren’t borne out from the reality of being on the ground and meeting with so many knowledgeable professionals. So, knowing what could work versus what we hoped would work was a huge takeaway.

Second, it was eye opening to understand the business climate in India, how we could bring our products to market, and who the key players and specifiers are. Granted, that’s just a lot to really absorb! As a business owner, you’re inundated with offers to help your sales and marketing—mostly from people who don’t understand your business. There are international resources in all these countries, and in some cases their actual business is in the U.S. Our products are machinery and tooling and they are difficult to sell through agents s as there is a lot of understanding required. Being on the ground and doing this directly with the right people was invaluable.

Third, we had great success in getting the dialogue started with potential partners—and that’s really thanks to Vinod who has such incredible contacts in the industry. He advised on which companies operate with great integrity and, to be honest, those to avoid. These conversations have continued, and I have a much higher comfort level in knowing where we are a good fit and add value and fill a market void.

While I was guilty of this, it bears repeating that not too many members take advantage of everything APTech has to offer. I’ve been a business owner for more than 12 years and this India opportunity was the first time I leveraged their expertise.

Entering a new market—or region—is like waiting for the right wave. It's starting to gain some momentum and I don't want to be too late. APTEch as an organization is helping to read and ride those waves. And while we will be exhibiting again at PRINT 19 (Booth 111), I would argue that the real value here is on the organization side. It’s about building relationships and building trust and that's what APTech is all about.