The Export Expert
For Molokai food or product producers wanting to sell their goods on an international scale, the Pacific regional office of the U.S. Department of Commerce may be the lucky break they’re waiting for. John Holman, director of the office based in Honolulu, shared valuable tips and connections with local producers last week.
“Our mission is to help U.S. companies grow international exports,” said Holman, speaking at an Export Seminar hosted by the Molokai Chamber of Commerce last Friday. “I have been working with a few companies here on Molokai for a few years. We can definitely do business from here.”
He said by marketing internationally, you are reaching 95 percent of the world’s consumers, the percentage that live outside the U.S. Additionally, taking that leap can help you diversify your client base, keep up with the competition and make use of free-trade agreements that make selling in many foreign countries relatively simple. And while many people associate international marketing with large corporations, Holman said 97 percent of U.S. exporters are small business, classified as having under 500 employees, and 75 percent of exporters have 20 employees.
As a state, Hawaii’s top exports are tourism services, cosmetics or skin care, education or training, environmental technologies, and agriculture and processed foods. The last category includes coffee, papaya, seafood and the state’s number one export product – bottled water, according to Holman.
Molokai Gears Up for Business
For Molokai businesses, taking the step to sell internationally can be an important one.
Seminar attendees Sue and Jim Schelinski of Molokai Wildlife Management, a deer farm in partnership with hunter and deer rancher Desmond Manaba, said they found the talk very helpful.
“I think the key is going to be export,” said Jim Schelinski. “We need to get into it. It’s taken two years, but I think we’re ready.”
Their business currently markets to brokers on Maui, Oahu and Hawaii Island – and also supplies venison to Molokai restaurants. Sue Schelinski said the business also supports local hunters, and its intent is not to irradiate deer but to protect them as a resource and benefit for Molokai.
Holman supported Jim Schelinski statement that “being ready” for export is important. He said there are a few questions to ask yourself before launching into international sales. Domestic success is a good prerequisite, because foreign buyers prefer working with businesses with a solid track record of local sales. Production capacity is also important to consider, to determine whether you can meet the increased demand of over-seas orders, he said. Financial resources, commitment to managing international accounts, know-how, and forming a plan for international business are also key in successful export.
Holman suggested that before going international, “beef up your online presence to sell your products through your website – a good chance to test the markets.”
Navigating a complex international market with so many countries to choose from can be confusing, but Holman said he and his staff are there to help.
“We get the most calls about China and Japan – but China is one of the hardest countries [for export],” he said, adding that Japan has a strong link to Hawaii but strict requirements also make export there challenging.
“Find path of least resistance,” he advised Molokai business people. “We can help you with that.”
He said Singapore is number one rated and easiest place to do business, followed by Hong Kong, an island smaller than Oahu but one that receives more than six times the annual number of tourists.
“Looking at those places first is a good strategy for most businesses,” he said.
Holman also stressed the importance of finding good international partners, as well as avoiding scam offers for foreign sales. With his connections with many international embassies, he said the Dept. of Commerce will sometimes ask someone at an embassy to personally check on the legitimacy of businesses in question.
Knowledge of the market can make or break international sales. Holman said he worked with a business that wanted to sell Noni juice in the Netherlands. When his office contacted the embassy there, they confirmed a huge market there but also shared that nine other businesses were already marketing Noni juice in the small country. So Holman advised them to find another sales venue.
Flexibility can sometimes be key.
“Let’s say you sell to Friendly Market here but there isn’t a Friendly Market in [the country you’re trying to market to],” Holman said. “You may have to adjust your target market and how you label it.”
In addition to providing information on various international markets, certifications necessary and the latest reports to help you put your best foot forward, Holman said the Dept. of Commerce can also set up networking opportunities, introductions and face-to-face meetings with prospective partners abroad.
On Molokai, Holman said he’s helped beekeeper and honey producer Brenda Kaneshiro with an issue she had exporting to France, assisted salt company Hawaii Kai with finding new markets in numerous countries, and even helped a Molokai business export to an unusually complicated country – Iran.
“This is a great opportunity to get the info to Molokai so we can help our people get our products out there and tell the story of Molokai,” said Molokai Chamber of Commerce President Rob Stephenson, who first met Holman about three years ago at Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Honolulu.
“I’m just a hop away on Oahu so contact me anytime,” Holman encouraged Molokai attendees and business owners who may not have been able to come to the seminar.
“Identifying the key areas to export products was very helpful and what products are being exported,” said Sue Schelinski. “We will be contacting him, he is a wonderful resource.”
You can reach Holman at 522-8041 or by emailing John.Holman@trade.gov. He also suggested resource websites like hawaiiexportsupport.com and export-u.com for helpful information.