Ossama AbouZeid is CEO of Kraus Global, a Winnipeg-based manufacturer of CNG and hydrogen dispensing systems and LPG dispensing kits, electronic metering and automatic temperature compensation for the refueling industry. More than 6,000 of the company’s dispensers are in operation worldwide.
When and where was your first export sale?
It was to Sri Lanka in the late ‘80s. It was for our controller, which appealed to our customer because of its reliability and simplicity.
How did that opportunity arise?
We were contacted by the customer. We had gone to the Far East – to China, Thailand and Korea to open a market for our product. EDC backing gave us a definite competitive advantage.
What was the biggest challenge when you started exporting?
Opening communication, gaining the confidence of customers, establishing working relationships and reaching decision-makers. It was important then and it’s important now. Getting our product certified was also a challenge because each country has its own certification standards. We couldn’t simply say that it was certified in Canada, so it’s fine for you to use it. Certification remains our biggest challenge.
How many countries are you exporting to and what are your key markets?
We have sold to customers in 51 countries. Our biggest market is the U.S. In Asia, we sell into Thailand, Pakistan, China, Malaysia, India, UAE, Turkey, Bangladesh and South Korea. In Europe, our customers are in Italy, Belgium, Czech Republic, the UK, Russia and Germany. We also have customers in Peru.
EDC resources to help you export
What percentage of your sales come from exports?
We export 90 per cent of our product and 80 per cent of that goes to the U.S. Canada is a smaller market and still in its infancy in the move towards clean energy.
Where do you see your best growth opportunities?
The U.S., which has a strong commitment to clean energy, is a huge market. U.S. customers appreciate the added value our product provides. Other countries, like Russia, are opening up, and Iran, which used to be one of our top markets, offers good prospects once EDC resumes coverage.
How has exporting helped you improve your operations in Canada?
To be a successful exporter you have to pay careful attention to documentation, to quality and to accuracy. You have one shot to do it right. You can’t send a product to China and then find out that you forgot to pack the bolts. Although quality is central to our business and we are an ISO company, exporting demands even more attention than ever. It’s helped us to be a bigger and better company.
When you look back at your export experience, what do you know now that you wished you knew when you started?
To succeed, you need to be very committed to exporting. You need perseverance and patience and you have to be in it for the long haul. You can’t look at exports as a way to supplement your domestic business when there’s a slump.
What would you say is the number one thing that new SMEs need to know before they enter the export trade?
They definitely need to be committed to export at the highest level and throughout the organization. It’s a completely different way of doing business and demands perseverance, careful risk assessment and patience.