Based in Quebec, Martin & Vleminckx Ltée is a world leader in the design, manufacture and installation of wooden roller coasters. Alain Vleminckx is President and co-founder of the company, and Pierre Cloutier is Vice-President and CFO.
What was your first export sale?
Our first export sale was to Mexico City. That was in 1985. At that time, we were exporting a service as we did roller-coaster installation. We sent a crew there and did installation for a product built by another manufacturer.
When it comes to exports, what do you know now that you wish you knew then?
For installations, we had to go through the diplomatic consulates to get work permits for our people. Also, the shipping logistics are our big challenge for us. We now have an in-house logistics department. We used to outsource that. We have our own team locally and we have people on the ground where we export.
How has the trading world changed?
I think it’s become more complex. When we started, we had contracts that were three pages long. Now we have contracts that are 200 pages long. Also, with email, now everything is in writing. Before, you used to resolve issues over the phone. This is a change. On the plus side, with the internet, the availability of information around the world has changed the way we learn about other markets and about our competition. So that part is easier now.
EDC resources to help you export
What is the No. 1 thing SMEs need to know about exporting?
They need to be prepared to travel a lot and meet with customers face to face. This is very important. They must also be very careful about understanding systems in other countries. Trust the experts at places like EDC and don’t be shy to ask large shipping companies about what to expect.
You also need to know the local laws and quality control to be sure your product meets the local standards and rules.
Lesson learned from a bad exporting experience?
Sometimes you can’t tell where the problems might arise. We signed a project for a certain date and then it got delayed. Because it’s outside the country, sometimes it’s more difficult to straighten that out. So you want to be sure your contract terms are strong.
What is the one personality trait every exporter must have?
Exporters should be patient. They should enjoy travelling as well, and they should enjoy experiencing different cultures. You need to be open to learning about other cultures.