Almost five years ago, business owner Laurie Sabol took a risk selling popcorn.
After finding success in the Summerlin area, the co-owner of Popcorn Girl decided to bring dozens of flavors of popcorn to Henderson in 2011. With two stores selling 60 flavors of popcorn from baked potato to peanut butter and chocolate, it was time for her next move.
And ExporTech, a national collaboration among the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, U.S. Export Assistance Centers, and other partners, helped.
“We just returned from Doha, Qatar, where we sold a master franchise,” Sabol said. ”We just went there to train the staff and get the store open. It’s already popular.”
Popcorn Girl is among four dozen brands to open in the Ezden Mall in Qatar for the first time. Sabol said Popcorn Girl decided to venture in Qatar after “being approached by a businessman who saw us on the Food Network.”
She declined to identify the businessman or the franchise fee. Popcorn Girl was featured in November on the show “Kid in a Candy Store” on the Food Network.
“We just expanded,” Sabol said. “We are looking to sell a master franchise in Canada.”
Mark Smith, co-owner of Popcorn Girl, said there are a “lot of people interested in our products.” But while their products are popular, Smith said he realizes it is still “very difficult to get food products into foreign countries.”
developing a simple plan
That’s what attracted Sabol and Smith to participate in ExporTech.
Companies participating in ExporTech attend three daylong seminars once a month through April to develop a simple, executable international growth plan. Between sessions, companies work to develop their export plan, supported by a coach, product manager from Nevada Industry Excellence, and a University of Nevada, Las Vegas intern.
“Our objectives are to accelerate entry and expansion into global markets and do it quickly and efficiently,” said Ann Edson, national facilitator with National Institute for Standards and Technology-Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s ExporTech program.
Besides Popcorn Girl, Pipeline Pacific, a dairy products company in Henderson; Innova Technologies, an engineering firm; and Sable Systems, a biomedical research, environmental and physiological sciences products company; are participating in the program.
On Wednesday, the companies participated in the first session. Edson spent the morning discussing successful export strategies and best practices.
The second session, on March 5, focuses on legal issues, intellectual property, culture, export controls and financing. On April 9, a panel of business experts will analyze each of the company’s plans before they begin to implement their export strategies.
The seminar also included group and individual discussion on target market selection, growth challenges and developing an elevator pitch to describe each company’s customers, its product’s benefits, and how the company stands out from competitors.
Edson assured participants that by the end of the program they would develop an international growth plan.
She said the key to any export plan was distinction in a crowded market because U.S. firms really can’t compete on low-price manufacturing.
a world of possibilities
Nevada’s exports total $10.3 billion, while 2,730 companies export their goods and services, a January trade report released by the U.S. Commerce Department shows.
Of those, 2,327,or 85.2 percent, were small and midsized businesses with fewer than 500 employees. Those are also the companies attracted to ExporTech’s three months of extensive training to develop a business plan and find the right markets to export their goods.
The Silver State’s largest trading partner is Switzerland, with exports of $3.8 billion, representing 36.8 percent of the state’s total merchandise exports. Switzerland was followed by India ($1.8 billion), Canada ($1.4 billion), China ($561 million), and Mexico ($336 million).
Innova Technologies is looking for help expanding beyond Brazil.
“We are currently doing work on a monorail in Sao Paulo, Brazil,” Innova marketing coordinator Heather Brown said. “There were not many monorails being built in North America so we looked to Brazil.”
The company’s project in Brazil is known as the Monorail Vila Prudente – Tiradentes, a 14.9-mile long line that has 17 stations, two maintenance facilities and numerous switches for operation of the trains.
Las Vegas-based Innova is a structural and transportation engineering firm. The firm has worked on the Harmon pedestrian bridge on the Strip, the Hoover Dam bypass and has performed on-call services for the Las Vegas monorail.
“We’re participating in ExporTech to … expand our international sales,” said Brown, who is participating in the class with Adriana Gonorazky, Innova’s operations director.
Contact reporter Chris Sieroty at email@example.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @sierotyfeatures on Twitter.