Ian Scarth is the President and CEO of SailRail Automated Systems – a Markham-based provider of material handling equipment solutions for the automotive sector.
You can learn more about their export success story here.
1. What was your first export sale after taking over the company in 1996?
It was with Ford Motor Co. in Buffalo.
2. How did that opportunity arise?
We were approached by Ford to come up with a solution to a material handling problem they had and we designed a machine for them. They knew our company because our previous owner had worked with them. Ford Motor Company is still our largest customer and SailRail has been named Ford Motor Company’s top FMSP supplier for 10 years.
3. When it comes to exports, what do you know now that you wish you knew then?
I think the first point to make is that it would have been nice if we’d known about EDC earlier. That would have made life a little easier. We know how to better qualify our suppliers now, so if we use suppliers in other countries, we know more about their track record. One of the things we’ve tried to do is expand our manufacturing base outside of Canada. If we had more of the EDC assistance and local knowledge earlier, that would have helped. We’re doing an interesting project where we’re being considered for some work at Jaguar in England. We may be in a position to manufacture there. We can rely on EDC for that.
4. How has the trading world changed since you started?
We have to carefully watch exchange rates between the U.S. and Canadian dollar because they’ve been so volatile. We also now have a lot more planning and pre-approvals to meet the timelines for the automotive industry. Those timelines have gotten tighter.
5. What is the No. 1 thing all SMEs should know about exporting?
Work with EDC — that’s for sure. Do your homework and take some time to fully explore transportation issues, qualified suppliers and understand the different taxation regulations of the various countries you’re going to because they’re all different and they can be very significant. If you’re manufacturing offshore, make sure you take the time to visit your supply base abroad.