Chase the sun. While the winter months inspire many Canadians to seek a beach holiday, in the 1990s a pursuit of warmer climates proved to be the prime motivation behind Calgary-based Sealweld Corporation’s export journey.
“We had a real slow season during the winter months and our business literally came to a standstill,” says Andrea Arient, the third-generation president of the company that is setting the global standard in the pipeline maintenance industry. “So my father decided to look at markets that didn’t shut down during those months.”
Some 20 years later, the company is providing customized solutions to customers in more than 100 countries. Sealweld Corporation manufacturers high-end lubricants and sealants, specifically proprietary synthetic valve sealant compounds.
“The U.S. is our biggest market and accounts for almost 40 per cent of our exports,” says Arient, who took over the reins of the company from her father and company CEO Dean Chisholm, when he retired in 2013. “But we have customers all over the globe.”
Saudia Arabia, Russia and Angola are the family business’ main markets following Canada’s neighbour to the south.
When her grandfather bought the company in 1969, he wasn’t thinking of going global. His focus was providing customer-driven solutions to Alberta’s oil and gas industry.
“My grandfather was the eternal entrepreneur,” says Arient, whose background is in advertising and marketing. “He was dedicated to being the face of the company in front of his customers.”
His legacy still lives on in Sealweld’s day-to-day operations and overall business mantra.
“He was an awesome salesperson,” she adds. “He had a billboard in his office that said, ‘Nothing happens until someone sells something.’”
That sales culture was fostered through his involvement as a trainer with the Dale Carnegie sales system – training that Sealweld currently provides to its 55 employees, including Arient herself as well as the senior management team.
Founded in 1912, Dale Carnegie Training has evolved from one man’s belief in the power of personal development to a global workplace learning and performance organization with a worldwide network of more than 2,700 trainers with offices in more than 85 countries.
It’s no surprise that Sealweld’s sales culture is reliant on fostering personal relationships and solving problems for customers. Driving an organization from the customer perspective has helped the company expand its global footprint.
EDC resources to help you export
“That’s key for us,” Arient says. “We constantly talk to our customers and send our salespeople out into the field wearing coveralls. The personal touch is greatly appreciated and helps us strengthen relationships.”
Another area that has helped forge relationships is the “technology transfer” training aspect of the business. Sealweld, through its newly opened Houston facility, educates existing clients as well as prospects on pipeline maintenance and problem troubleshooting. The company also offers on-site training in any part of the globe.
“Training has been an excellent leads generator,” she adds, particularly during this down cycle in the domestic oil and gas industry. While many other companies are in a negative growth position, Sealweld has been able to post positive numbers.
“We grew four per cent last year and expect to grow about the same this year,” says Arient. “Being a global company has definitely helped us in this downturn.”
The company has expanded its export strategy and now has a number of smaller customers in a larger number of markets all over the world.
“We’ve had to refocus our attention to a number of other smaller markets to increase sales and keep staff busy. Being able to diversify – that’s the beauty of exporting,” Arient says. “You can’t be afraid to get on a plane. The reason we’ve made so many inroads internationally (recently) is a result of getting in front of potential customers – the proverbial boots on the ground.”
The company’s recent successes are also the result of an added spin on her grandfather’s proven approach to business. The company has adopted the Zero Max methodology, which aims for zero environmental impact and maximum uptime for clients.
“We can’t compete at the low end of the spectrum in the global market,” she says. “What we can compete with is providing best quality products that don’t cause any environmental impact. We customize products and solutions for the customer on the fly. That’s a great part about being smaller, because we have the capacity to solve unique problems – and having that capacity helps in terms exporting, too.”
Arient says there have been many lessons learned for the company on its export journey including targeting the high-end market to overcome fierce global competition at the other end of the spectrum. While take the first step can be daunting, Arient borrows Nike’s tag line to explain how Canadian SMEs should start their own export journeys.
“Just do it,” she says. “You may think the whole going global thing sounds onerous, but you have to start somewhere. You could surprise yourself at just how easy it can be.”
That is, if you do the research and educate yourself before you take the plunge in addition to leveraging available resources like the federal government’s Trade Commissioner Service as well as Export Development Canada, she adds.
As Sealweld waits for Alberta’s current economic downturn to flush itself out, it will continue looking for opportunities in new markets including South America and Asia.
“Our export journey is an adventure through which, we are learning to get better at our core business,” Arient concludes. “Venturing into these new countries provides a great opportunity for knowledge transfer and knowledge sharing about our products, our services and Canada as well. Our key to success is being a solutions provider for our customers, regardless of what country they are in.”