LED Roadway Lighting was founded in 2007 by entrepreneur Chuck Cartmill who had a vision to make lighting more durable, cost and energy efficient. More than seven years later, Halifax-based LED Roadway Lighting is providing its roadway and infrastructure solutions to customers in 60 countries, with annual revenues of about $60 million.
CEO Peter Conlon describes how exporting has been a key strategy in the company’s growth plans:
When and why did you first start thinking about exporting as part of your business?
The company knew from the beginning that the domestic market wasn’t going to allow it to be sustainable. It would have to be a company that exported in order to have longevity and growth.
What was your export journey like to get to where you are today?
It well a well-planned journey. The company decided to get its sea legs first by establishing a strong presence in its local market, namely Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and then expand into other parts of Canada. It then moved into other markets where Canada has favourable trading relationships. The customers we approach get the idea of buying high-quality products based on lifecycle costing.
What is the biggest difference between selling in Canada and selling in another country?
Buying characteristics are often the same. People understand value and want to be treated with dignity and respect. They want to pay the right price, but not too much. That said, there are certain regulatory or environmental characteristics you have to pay attention to.
How has exporting changed the way you market/sell your products/services in Canada?
We had to take our product and modify it. For example, when you’re selling a product in Canada, often times you’re worried about extreme cold weather. In a place like the United Arab Emirates, for example, you worry about extreme heat. Some places you worry about water getting in, while other places it’s sand. The environmental conditions are different in each region. It’s impossible to design something where one size fits all. You could, but that could mean giving everyone a Rolls Royce, and not everyone wants that.
What have you learned from exporting that has benefitted your sales/operations in Canada?
It’s all about risk. Often, you’re going into the great unknown. You need to be able to have a risk tolerance level that’s appropriate. If you can’t stomach the risk, you probably shouldn’t be out in the export market.
When it comes to exports, what do you know now that you wish you knew then?
The lessons I’ve learned as an exporter over the years, at this company and others, is that as an exporter you need two characteristics: courage and patience. Doing business in the international market takes even longer than in the domestic market because of regulatory considerations, payments and the selling cycle. As I mentioned earlier, you need to have risk tolerance and courage to sell yourself against homegrown competitors. You have to convince someone to spend money and buy an import rather than something that’s manufactured locally. You have to have the courage to go out and make that sale. It takes a long time, so then you need to have the patience to take that to closure. It can sometimes take years.
What is the #1 thing new SMEs need to know about exporting and trade?
Don’t go out and start to export until you become good at what you’re doing. The export market is tough. It’s not going to replace having a good domestic business. If you can’t create a good domestic business, except in rare circumstances, you won’t have a successful international business.
What is the one characteristic that you believe every exporter should possess?
I can name two: Again, they’re courage, and patience.