“You need to understand how to maximize the American Advantage”: Export insights from Blackline Safety’s Brendon Cook

“You need to understand how to maximize the American Advantage”: Export insights from Blackline Safety’s Brendon Cook

Calgary-based Blackline Safety develops and manufactures world-leading lone-worker safety monitoring solutions, utilizing technology that blends communications, location technology plus automatic incident detection features with manual safety triggers.

You can read about the company’s export journey here.

When did you first start think about exporting as part of your business?

From day one, and we looked to our cousin, the U.S., as a key market for us. However, we were still mindful of the opportunity for growth in other international markets as well.

What’s been key to global success for your company?

Cody Slater, our CEO and Chairman, was the founder of a very successful portable gas detection company with a global focus. That experience has allowed him to assemble a team of world-class personnel, tapping into proven relationships and gaining access to talented members of our team. This success factor may not be available to every growing business, however much of a team’s ability to achieve will depend how well they can network and tap into such relationships.

How would you describe this success?

Blackline was able to open both offices confidently and with a manageable amount of risk. Putting the right talent in place for any position is always important, but finding the right people for a remote office requires more consideration. Blackline has been fortunate on this front.

What advice would you give to an SME who is breaking into a new market?

Do a lot of research and start with the market. Study the landscape, including the competition and market readiness level for your product or service. Understand the buyers and the channel and look for an approach on how to test the market for your solution.

The results will likely require some extrapolation, and at one point or another a decision will be needed to either embark on expansion or hold off until a milestone is achieved. If expansion is desired, explore and assess the go-to-market options available. Finding advisors within the region may be possible through trade associations that support bringing in foreign business.

What are your future growth plans?

Blackline has some ambitious near-term plans with a large product launch planned for the fall. We have started a teaser campaign to create interest prior to the event. We’re quite excited about the difference we can make in safety across many industries and around the world.

Can you share the best lesson learned from a bad exporting experience?

We had a couple of resellers register regional domains that are based upon the blacklinesafety.com domain. We appreciate their enthusiasm, but that’s definitely not desirable.

On the vendor side, we have several vendors outside Canada. Managing the supply of materials always requires a keen eye and consistent communications. The unexpected can still occur – one example was an injection-molding partner working on a project and some tolerances were missed. Unfortunately, such a simple problem can turn into several weeks’ delay on a set of parts that are needed.

You really have to know who you are working with internationally. There’s always going to be a certain amount of risk in international business.

If you could summarize your export journey in one word or one sentence what would it be?

Methodical.

What is the #1 thing new SMEs need to know about exporting and trade?

The U.S. should be a top priority. You need to understand how to maximize the American Advantage. You can’t overlook that it is a huge market next door to us and in many cases, closer than some of our sister and brother provinces.

With that comes the need to understand how to export — and the pitfalls of logistics and customs.

If you have your ducks in a row, and your products and services have the aptitude to go global, I think the U.S. is a fantastic proving ground and trying to maximize that potential is absolutely critical from day one.

What’s the one goal you would want to achieve?

As a publicly-traded company, we have a couple of key goals – our paramount goal is to empower the fastest possible emergency response for each of our customer organizations. If we do that job very well, we will achieve our other goal of creating the most value for our investors.

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