A study by the Conference Board of Canada found that small (and medium) sized enterprises owned by recent immigrants to Canada, are more likely to export, and they are also among the fastest-growing SMEs. This series highlights some of their stories.
With its headquarters in Toronto, AR Mining Parts exports mining equipment, parts, and components to clients in 10 different countries, with many in South America. Alejandra Russo is the company’s president.
Where were you born? When and why did you come to Canada?
I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Did you have any specific thoughts or concerns about starting or growing a business in Canada? Did you face any challenges or barriers?
My biggest concern was my language, not having English as a first language. My industry is also dominated by males. If I call South America, it’s all engineers and the majority are all male. That’s one of the reasons I don’t push hard for domestic business. I feel like men sometimes don’t take me seriously. I still think men have more power than women in this industry.
Regarding challenges, the biggest one was finding suppliers for more than 200 lines of different products for exporting because a lot of companies don’t have faith in a small company like mine. But now, after a number of years in business, I have a reputation. They see the results so it’s going well.
Have you used any resources or supports to help start or grow your business? If yes, what has been most helpful?
I attended several local community workshops in the beginning. They weren’t helpful for what I do. I knew mostly what I had to do anyway. It’s really all export. The best results I get are just by calling clients directly.
From EDC, I have receivables insurance. It’s incredibly useful. For a small company like mine, it’s crucial. Especially for exports. EDC is amazing.
Is there anything that wasn’t available that you wish had been?
Some kind of government grant for companies just starting out would be nice. There isn’t much help out there. In the beginning, it’s very difficult trying to get customers to consider you when you’re small and are still building a reputation.
When and why did you start exporting as part of your business?
That was my plan from the beginning. Even though it’s a more complex way of doing business, it’s what I knew.
What has your export journey been like?
Very challenging, but very positive. It was challenging because when you’re crossing the border, you can’t hide anything. Your competitors can find ways of seeing what you’re doing and then going after your business. You have to be prepared for that challenge.
EDC resources to help you export
What is the biggest difference between selling in Canada and selling in another country? How did you adapt to that difference?
Selling in Canada is a very simple process. The way you communicate with your customers and the way you do your sales and do business overall is very different. It was fairly easy for me to move to domestic sales because they were so much simpler. But most of my sales continue to be international.
Reports suggest that immigrant-owned businesses are more likely to develop new or stronger trade links beyond the U.S. Does this reflect your experience exporting and trade?
Yes. I have relationships beyond the U.S., with many countries. For me, I had the advantage of speaking Spanish and Italian.
Do you sell and/or have business relationships in the country where you were born?
I don’t at the moment. I was born in Argentina and the sales climate hasn’t been so good. I did in the past, however, and I’m working on it and hopeful to get some soon.
Looking back on your business/export success, what are you most proud of?
I was able to establish business in a few countries and now I have 11 countries including Canada. The name of my company is known in at least that many different countries. That’s a nice feeling.
What advice would you give to new Canadians about starting or growing a business?
Never give up. Work hard. Hard work always pays off. There are many opportunities out there in export so don’t get discouraged. Be strong and get out there. And I would say that to women in particular because mining is still a man’s world. I go to the mining conference every year and there are still not many women there. It’s very challenging, but I love a challenge.
What is the #1 thing SMEs need to know about exporting and trade?
There are a lot of companies that don’t know EDC exists. The product I have from them is great.