Ryan Bourget is the lead product developer at Herd, a Winnipeg-based maker of premium bumper and grill protectors for pickup and transport trucks.
What was your first export sale? How did that opportunity arise?
It was a few days after the start of the business in 2003, an order from Montana. Most of our customers are truck dealerships and they offer our products as an option when they sell the truck.
What is the biggest difference between selling in Canada and selling in another country, and how did you adapt to that difference?
There’s a sensitivity in the U.S. for anything not made there. Some people are OK with it and some people want to buy U.S.-made first, so you have to be aware of that.
There’s actually a bigger cultural difference between the northern and southern U.S. than there is between the northern U.S. states and Canada.
North Dakota and Montana are just a few hours away and there are common threads. People there and here in Canada have the winter to deal with. In the southern U.S., the culture and approach are different; it’s an entirely different lifestyle and outlook. The U.S. is a big country, and there are big differences (within it).
How has exporting changed the way you market/sell your products/services in Canada?
It has certainly guided our product development. We want to provide front-end protection for drivers and fleets of all sizes in North America; many of those fleets are operating in areas where they don’t need full “moose” protection. They need something much smaller and more appropriate for the types of animals and types of collisions they’re more likely to encounter through much of the central and southern US.
Could you share a lesson learned from a bad exporting experience?
Getting the specs wrong on 30 full-size custom-made grillguards that went to Texas and then had to come back to Winnipeg was pretty painful. We had to build a replacement order, and it took a long time to find a home for the ones we built.
EDC resources to help you export
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started exporting?
No matter what advice you get, it seems you’ll make mistakes. A few times in product development or in trying out some production software, we didn’t do enough diligence or take enough care to find out if a new strategy or product would work. If you can do smaller-scale tests, your risks can be lowered.
We made aluminum trailers for export (and we intended them for sale in Canada as well) and it was a failure. Part of it was the economic conditions at the time, but we should have looked closer at the situation. We didn’t end up making and selling the product, so we wasted time and energy. We (temporarily) lost focus on what we do really well and what has made us a success.
How has the business world changed since Herd started?
When we started, it was common for customers (transport truck dealerships) to carry 20 to 30 of our products on hand for sales. Now, that’s not very common at all. It’s a ‘just-in-time’ scenario now.
There’s a convenience economy now and people want things quickly.
What is one characteristic that you believe every exporter should possess?
It’s hard to find that balance – you want to be ‘agile’ and ‘adaptable,’ but if you are too flippant about chasing trends you can get yourself in trouble. Define what makes you successful – what you do that gives value to your customers – and get really, really good at it.