In mid-November, the New Jersey District Export Council – an organization of professionals from across New Jersey who provide valuable international business advice to local firms – held an international business networking event at SobelCo., a Livingston-based certified public accounting and consulting firm that’s also an active NJDEC member. The get-together gave attendees a chance to connect with local DEC members, share best practices with exporters and service providers, and with trade professionals in the logistics, finance, distributorship, international sales, and legal sectors. They also met with local, state, and federal agencies involved with exporting at an event that represented just one of the many ways different organizations help businesses of all sizes to increase their footprint on the global stage.
During her 16 years with Repêchage, a Secaucus-based skincare brand, NJDEC volunteer Dawn Cecco has seen the company steadily increase its overseas sales activity.
“It was a natural evolution,” said Cecco, the company’s director of distributor sales-worldwide. “We had lots of customers in the U.S., and we were contacted by overseas companies. We wanted to continue to expand our sales, so it made sense to work with distributors in other countries that sell our products to salons and spas across the globe.”
Today, she noted, Repêchage’s seaweed-based products are sold in 49 countries, “including the U.S. and Canada, Europe and the U.K., India, Korea, Thailand, and others. We’re in most Asian markets, with the exception of China because of intellectual property concerns.” Overseas activity accounts for about 45 percent of the company’s sales, “and we expect to soon approach a 50-50 split.”
In the last decade, the New Jersey office of the U.S. Commerce Department “has helped us to accelerate our overseas expansion,” she added. “Among other assistance, the DOC has helped us to vet overseas distributors and set up meetings with them. Otherwise, it can be challenging to do that. The assistance from the government agency has helped a lot with our overseas expansion.” At the state level, Repêchage has worked with the New Jersey offices of the Small Business Administration to qualify for State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) Grants.
Still, she said, “[g]etting products registered and meeting local regulations can be a challenge, since the rules are different across countries, and they can quickly change. We have a full-time attorney on staff, and another person who’s focused on regulatory compliance matters.”
Because demographic and climate needs can vary around the globe, Repêchage maintains about 200 different SKUs, “something for almost every category of skin care,” Cecco said. “Labeling may also differ because of local regulations. There are a lot of issues to consider. We recently registered in Panama, and the licensing process involved undergoing a formulation analysis, submitting our artwork, and getting an OK from the country’s health department. Then the whole process will be repeated in a few years when the license comes up for renewal.”
BAC to basics
The New Jersey Business Action Center works with a lot of small- and medium-sized businesses that want to export their products, according to BAC Executive Director Melanie Willoughby. “The vast majority of the companies we assist can be considered SMEs [Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises] as defined by the U.S. Small Business Administration, using a company’s NAICS code,” she noted. “By SBA standards over 95 percent of New Jersey companies would be considered small or medium. However, as a general rule, a company may be considered small if they have 250 employees or less. Either way, the New Jersey Business Action Center is here to assist any New Jersey company, regardless of size, profitability, or experience.”
She highlighted a distinction between a company “going global” by exporting, as opposed to “going global because they are relocating to a foreign country,” and added there’s a definite increase in New Jersey companies that want to start or increase their exports.
“It’s not for any one reason,” according to Willoughby. “Some companies are looking to export because it is the next stage of their growth, some because the internet has allowed them to increase their exposure and some because ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ quality is important to their buyer.”
The NJBAC tackles a variety of questions. “Companies have come to us for help in just about every category you can imagine,” she noted. “This is an area we specialize in, because often we have found that what they think they need and what they actually need may be two different things.”
The agency digs deep by building a relationship and asking the right questions, so “we are able to discover exactly what they need and how we can help,” added Willoughby. The most frequently asked questions involve helping to identify a potential market for their product, or helping them identify foreign buyers.
“In this case, after getting to know the company better, we might do a global market analysis of their product to help identify countries that may be actively buying their product,” she said. “If they have no idea of where to begin, we would offer a short list of countries for them to consider. In addition, and depending on their experience, we would introduce them to some of our federal partners such as the U.S. Commercial Service – Export Assistance Center which is a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce. They have offices in just about every state and in most U.S. Embassies abroad.”
Susan Widmer is the director of the U.S. Commercial Service Northern New Jersey export branch in Newark — there’s also a Central-Southern office in Lawrenceville. “The recent tariff wars are worrisome, but it’s not stopping companies from doing business overseas,” she said. “We help them with issues like market intelligence, and can connect them with resources like freight forwarders, and bankers. We don’t issue recommendations, but we have lists and can direct businesses to them. Our agency can also help companies to find distributors and, for a fee, we can do a background check.”
Both officials agreed that it makes sense to base an export-oriented company in the Garden State. “New Jersey has great access to transportation like ports and airports, as well as service providers,” said Widmer.
Willoughby added that a big advantage is “[l]ocation, location, location. New Jersey offers easy access to ports, rail, and air, while some of the biggest and best logistics, transportation and international shipping companies are here.”