If your business revenues have reached a plateau on a local level, then one of your best strategies for growth today is exporting. And entrepreneurs like Richard Meunier can vouch for that.
Eight years ago, the president of Edmonton-based RAM Manufacturing Ltd., which makes low-rise elevating devices, ventured into the U.S. market and today his company boasts revenues that are 75 per cent export-based. "If you want a motivator for exporting, all you have to do is some simple extrapolating. When I assessed the potential of the American market, I knew I was looking at something about 10 times the size of the Canadian one," he says.
Like most business owners, Meunier admits that he was a little reticent about taking the step to move into unknown territory like exporting. Still, the entrepreneur knew that by 1995, his business had levelled off and that tackling the international market was his only real choice to drive additional growth.
"You have to be patient and there's risk involved of course, but you can make it work if you take it one step at a time. When you see the results, you'll know it was worth the stress," says Meunier, who runs his family owned company with his partner Sandy Smart. In RAM Manufacturing's case, the statistics certainly tell the story: the company doubled its sales in just over three years.
"Of course, you have some hoops to jump through first," he explains. For example, the company had to obtain U.S. FDA approval for its elevating products, which are targeted at persons with disabilities, as well as for residential use. "You have to be patient about paperwork."
Key to his success in exporting, Meunier emphasizes, was having the right financing in place to make the move in the first place. The company sought help from BDC and received a quasi-equity loan to assist with inventory, marketing and product enhancements. "We had already been in business for eight or nine years, and we had a good business plan to show that we could make it work," he says.
Once RAM Manufacturing entered the U.S. market, Meunier also adds that his company relied on rigorous marketing. "When you're a small fish in a big ocean, I would recommend that any business owner pursue marketing wisely," he explains. To find the right dealers and consumers for his elevating devices, his team relied on direct marketing techniques. "You think maybe that direct marketing doesn't work, that maybe people just throw that stuff out," he recalls.
But he argues that this was definitely not the case for his company. "It was a powerful tool for us," he adds.
Looking back, the mechanical engineer says he definitely relied on some "gut feelings" before launching his business in 1987. But he strongly recommends that entrepreneurs also do rigorous research before forging ahead. "The statistical population bulge was made up of boomers who were becoming older and wealthier," he says.
The company discovered that the same age group would be seeking out health-related products and services even more as they got older, a market that would peak in the year 2010. "I had every statistical reason to get into this business," he says.
RAM Manufacturing has also maintained a strong unique selling proposition in a competitive market with its innovative elevating device designs. "When I designed our first elevator, I didn't have a mindset about what it should be. We started with a clean slate and that enabled us to develop a product that really met the needs of the market," he says.
For example, his "UNI-VERS" Crystal Elevator uses a "traction-sheave drive" based on a high-rise elevator rather than a hydraulic system used in most low-rise elevating devices. "Our customers appreciate the fact that our elevator is completely self-contained, doesn't leak oil and smell, for example, in your home. Our product also requires less maintenance," he adds.
To run his successful business, Meunier has also learned to rely on the right people in his organization for the right expertise. "You have to leverage your knowledge where it is in your company," he concludes. He believes that his partner Sandy Smart provides the "rationale side of his brain. She definitely helps keep it all together financially," he says smiling. And with RAM Manufacturing Ltd.'s continued success, it appears that the duo are a winning team.
Content in this section is provided in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada. BDC provides entrepreneurs with financing, venture capital and consulting services. To find out more go to BDC.ca.