Rodger Upton is the Founder and President of Ironwood Clay Company – a B.C.-based manufacturer of beauty and skin-care products made of natural oceanic clay.
1. What was your first export sale?
I had a customer before I had a business! The client identified the clay deposit and sent me up a package specifying what they wanted and what they were willing to pay. It was my first sale.
2. How did that first export opportunity arise?
I was originally engaged as a consultant to advise a client on a potential partnership with someone in B.C. When that didn’t work out the company asked me to get involved. I had no background in the clay business, but I did it and it was the beginning of a relationship that has lasted nearly 30 years.
3. When it comes to exports, what do you know now that you wish you knew then?
The system of exporting: you don’t just call the shipper and away it goes. It turns out that every country has different regulations and rules on importation. They all have protective measures, and you need to work closely with them. Those are things that you should learn very early on, because it could get very expensive if you don’t. Once you have those [systems] in place, it makes doing business with overseas customers much easier.
4. How has the trading world changed since you started in business?
In China, for example, one of the biggest problems that has evolved is quality control. Canada has emerged as basically the Switzerland of the West. They hold us – Canadian products and Canadian manufacturing – in great regard and esteem, so that has really changed. Also, the marketplace has become so much closer with the use of the Internet, and direct selling. You’re far more exposed, and so you need to keep a fair balance with all of your distributors and customers.
5. What is the #1 thing new SMEs need to know about export and trade?
First, I think they need to trust their instincts, and secondly, they have to understand that they’re doing business in somebody else’s backyard. They need to know the various cultures, and language, and sensitivities, because they all vary. It makes doing business abroad so much easier when the people you’re doing business with know that you respect who they are and how they do business. Once you get to that point, then it’s a trust that grows and is honoured.