- Table of Contents
- Full Issue in PDF
- Emerging Metropolitan Sectors: A Fertile Market for U.S. Exports
- Bringing U.S. Products to the World
- Opportunities in the Global Marketplace for Minority Businesses
- Short Takes
- Trade Calendar
- Featured Trade Event: Basic Guide to Exporting Webinars
Bringing U.S. Products to the World
Pierce Barker (left), founder and chief executive of ProStuff LLC, with Team ProGate rider Mariana Pajon (right) at the 2009 UCI BMX World Championships in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo courtesy ProStuff LLC)
ProStuff LLC, a manufacturer of mountain bike equipment based in Rockford, Illinois, first began exporting in 2005. Five years later, the company has a network of distributors serving 41 countries and is continuing to expand its international reach. In May 2010, the company received a Presidential “E” Award for its outstanding contributions to expanding U.S. exports. Doug Barry of the Trade Information Center recently spoke with Pierce Barker, founder and chief executive officer of ProStuff, about the company’s experiences with exporting.
Barry: ProStuff makes starting gates for mountain bikes. Could you fill us in a little bit on the product itself and how the business idea came to you?
Barker: Our biggest markets are both in bicycle motocross (BMX) and mountain bikes. And the way it started is that, about seven years ago, a customer came through the door needing help with a piece of equipment he had built. From that, we saw the opportunity to take this on an international basis.
Barry: What is BMX?
Barker: BMX, or bicycle motocross, was developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s in California. It consists of small courses of between 300 and 400 meters that have different types of obstacles—such as jumps and tabletops and things like that—done on small bicycles.
Barry: How many users of BMX and mountain bikes are there around the world?
Barker: There are probably about 500,000 BMX riders in the world at various levels. And they are located in every country. But ProStuff’s biggest customer is not just the consumer, but the sports team. When you include the teams, and the coaching staffs, and the international Olympic teams, there are probably several million people involved with just the sport of BMX.
Barry: How many countries are you currently exporting to?
For More Information
There are more than 100 U.S. Export Assistance Centers (USEACs) located throughout the country. They offer a full range of counseling services to new and established exporters. A full list of USEACs, including contact information, appears on page 11 of this issue and online at the U.S. government export portal at www.export.gov. Export counseling is also available by telephone from the Trade Information Center at 1-800-USA-TRAD(E) (1-800-872-8723).
The Export–Import Bank of the United States has a variety of export-financed products, including loan guarantees, export insurance, and preexport financing. Information on the bank’s programs and services is available at www.exim.gov.
Additional information on U.S. government export assistance programs can be found in the Export Programs Guide. Printed copies may be obtained by calling the Trade Information Center at 1-800-USA-TRAD(E) (1-800-872-8723).
Barker: Our first year of exporting was 2005. Since then, we’ve set up distribution in five continents and have equipment placed with a variety of customers in 41 countries.
Barry: How did you manage to find buyers in 41 different countries?
Barker: We wrote a one-page business plan and then went out and executed it. The plan isn’t fraught with a lot of details or 27 pages of specifications. It says, “Go. Do this.” We also had to be willing to adjust our marketing strategies. For example, we found that overseas—unlike in the United States—the consumer market was not as big as we imagined. So we promoted our products with teams and international sporting organizations. When we learned that BMX was going to be part of the 2008 Olympics, we marketed our products to the very top of the sport. I picked up the phone and called Johan Lindstrom, BMX coordinator of the Union Cycliste Internationale in Switzerland, and asked him how ProStuff could get its products specified and used in the Olympics. That’s how we started.
Barry: Do you speak German or French?
Barker: I speak French, but most of the people that I deal with anywhere in the world are bi- or trilingual. We have never found language to be a barrier.
Barry: What else was in your one-page business plan that led to sales in 41 countries?
Barker: Number 1: understand what you want to do and where you want to go. Number 2: incorporate the concept of “velocity” in your business. That is, incorporate an instantaneous response to customers’ needs and requests. Number 3: make a conscious business decision to produce the very best product in the world. For ProStuff, that strategy meant that its business reputation grew from being a pariah, where nobody wanted to deal with us, to where we have daily requests from around the world for quotations.
Barry: Did you make use of any government programs to help ProStuff expand into all of these markets?
Barker: Yes, absolutely. I had no idea what to do when we first started. I found out about Pat Hope at the U.S. Export Assistance Center here in Rockford. He spoke with me and helped guide our company down the road of exporting. He pointed me to the Export–Import Bank, where I was able to develop business relationships that gave ProStuff additional resources.
Barry: ProStuff is located on the fringes of the Rust Belt, which has been hit very hard during the current recession. With President Obama talking about doubling the number of U.S. exports within the next five years, what do you think the chances are of the United States regaining some of its manufacturing prowess?
Barker: Fifteen years ago, manufacturing accounted for something like 36 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. Today, it’s down to around 18 percent. U.S. companies need to go to other places in the world and take the technology that they’ve developed. We’re really good at technology, but we haven’t been good at purveying it. And that’s been one of the core principles of ProStuff’s success. We’ve implemented our technology throughout the world, and the quality of our products has set us up for the next order.
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