Langley, B.C.-based iPlayco is a global leader in the design and supply of indoor playgrounds for children. The company has sold more than 2,800 playgrounds to customers in more than 50 countries worldwide.
When and where was your first export sale, and how did that opportunity arise?
Early on we had some small orders to Central America and then soon after, we had a large order to the country of Oman in the Middle East. These customers knew me from trade shows and previous work we had done together.
What was your biggest challenge when you started exporting?
Trying to get payments. We had good relationships with most clients and were generally able to get a 50 per cent deposit and the balance upon shipping. But when you are working with larger numbers in different locations and with new customers, you need to start looking at other forms of payment. A letter of credit was fairly typical, but every bank has different criteria so it puts a lot of the onus on your accounting department.
What’s currently your biggest export market?
It varies, but the U.S. and the Middle East are two of our stronger markets.
Where do you see the potential for growth?
There are many regions where we still have room for growth. Europe and Asia are two that come to mind, and a bit in Central and South America. Just like any other market, you tend to go with what’s going on in the area.
How has your experience in the export market helped your Canadian business?
It’s given us insight into the global market and what’s out there. That’s important because we need to understand what works and what’s in demand in places like Mexico, Australia or Asia, so we can offer the right products for those markets.
The more you export, the more you stress-test your business model. It’s common knowledge that companies that export a lot are typically able to get through the lows better than those that don’t because you have a diverse market. We experienced that during the financial meltdown that started in the U.S. and then spread worldwide. We had some key customers in the Middle East that were able to keep us afloat while it was going on. That would have never happened had we just been focused on North America.
EDC resources to help you export
How do you market your products?
It’s changed over the years, but we do a lot of connecting with our clients through the website; we do a lot of trade shows and produce specific marketing materials, too. We also work with customers on an ongoing basis, to see if we can provide anything to a different division within their company. While the internet means people can find just about anything they want, it’s still important to be at trade shows, to have face-to-face contact with potential customers and to start building a personal relationship. That’s particularly important with some of the bigger players.
How has the business world changed since you started?
In general, people are more aware of quality and they require a higher level of service. They expect more. We look at it as a challenge and we are changing and adapting continuously to meet that challenge.
What do you wish you’d known when you started exporting that you know now?
When we started, we weren’t a public company, so we had a lean and mean staff. We didn’t have a CFO that knew all the different ins and outs of opportunities that were out there. Tied to that is the issue of payment and finance and the ability to take full advantage of the available products and services, like those offered by EDC. It would have been nice to know more of that back then.
What is the number-one thing SMEs should be aware of when they’re moving into the export market for the first time?
Have a good understanding of payments and payment terms, and the products out there that can help you. Ensure that you have enough cash flow for your production and make sure that at the end of the day, you get paid every dollar that’s due to you.