Andrea Arient is the President of Sealweld Corporation – a Calgary-based solutions provider of pipeline maintenance products and training services around the globe.
When and why did you first start thinking about exporting as part of your business?
It was in the ‘90s when my Dad took over the business from my grandfather and we really started looking at the U.S. Being a Canadian company, the winter was our slow season and demand dropped off. So, my dad said let’s chase the sun; let’s go after countries that don’t have this shutdown period in the winter.
What was your export journey like to get to where you are today?
Our export journey has really been one step at a time, one country at a time.
We learned that you can’t set your sights on focusing on the whole world all at once. We were strategic and chose markets that made sense and once we got into those markets, it opened doors to others.
Once you start, it’s easy to hopscotch through the globe. You have to set your sights on a target. You can’t go global thinking the whole world is your oyster – it doesn’t work that way.
Is there a specific story/anecdote from your company’s history that you would consider a critical moment for your export journey?
One thing that stands out for us is getting to Angola. That country wasn’t on our radar whatsoever until a company contacted us inquiring about the fees for our training CDs.
We sent 30 CDs and never thought really much of it. Today, we’ve turned that (into) one of our largest export markets.
We’ve found that once new customers in a new market get familiar with our products, they start becoming more comfortable with us as a company. Today, Angola is one of our larger export countries and it was initially based on a direct mailer.
EDC resources to help you export
Is there a difference between selling in Canada and selling in another country?
Yes, absolutely there is. We use a different strategy when selling to the U.S. They’re all about the U.S. – how everything’s made in the U.S. Americans are very patriotic. As a result, we’ve had change our tactics. Canada is quite different — the buying and selling decisions are customized to the Canadian way — everyone is quite polite.
Selling is different in every country, so we have to adapt our strategy for that country.
How has exporting changed the way you market/sell your products/services in Canada?
It really hasn’t. In our industry, we’ve adapted to specific countries and in our case, each country is different. As a general practice, you have to adapt to your customer and your market.
We have a pretty strong stance against bribery and gifting and those kinds of things are very common in international markets, so you have to be careful because there are a lot of expectations.
For Sealweld, we’ve always said that’s something we are not going to partake in. It’s maybe been a hindrance to us, but you really have to draw the line and stand up for your company values.
Can you share the best lesson learned from a bad exporting experience?
Even if you are dealing with larger companies, don’t make assumptions. Just because a company has a brand name, doesn’t mean that they are great to do business with.