A global company with headquarters in Ottawa, Ross Video designs, manufactures, markets and supports a wide range of innovative systems that enable customers to inform, entertain and inspire their audiences. Ross Video’s products, solutions and services are used to produce compelling news, weather and sports studio broadcasts, sports venue presentations, legislative, corporate, and educational assembly media control, entertainment show and rock concert augmentation, and inspiring faith-based messaging.
David Ross has been a part of the family business for the past 25 years and is currently the CEO.
When and why did you first start thinking about exporting as part of your business?
From day one. Ross built its factory in Iroquois, Ontario – a 15-minute drive from the international bridge to Ogdensburg , New York – to be able to ship via FedEx anywhere in the U.S. without our customers having to see the Canadian border. While you are excited about being an exporter, your customer wants to buy world-class products locally. You need to make that easy for them.
What was your export journey like to get to where you are today?
In the early days, we tried to go global everywhere at once and we found ourselves spread too thinly. We didn’t have the sales staff to cover the whole world and build a strong dealer network, and we didn’t have the product development staff to meet every region’s local needs and expectations. We changed our strategy to focus on just a few regions and customers, do the job well and expanded from there.
What is the biggest difference between selling in Canada and selling in another country? How did you adapt to that difference?
Regulatory issues can be very complex compared to just selling in Canada. For example, in Canada you have to meet CSA standards, but in the U.S. you add UL and FCC, then you add CE in Europe, and then China and Korea have their own standards, etc. You also have to consider different rules for duties, taxation, and hiring local sales and support staff. If you are using U.S.-based parts in your products, you also have to consider American legislation on where you can or can’t sell your products in addition to Canadian laws. It can seem overwhelming and learning all the rules can take time.
How has exporting changed the way you market/sell your products/services in Canada?
Your company gets considerably more respect from Canadian customers when they know that you sell your products around the world. They are so much more confident in your products knowing that what you are selling is clearly world class and it’s much easier to convince them of the quality of your offerings.
What have you learned from exporting that has benefitted your sales/operations in Canada?
It costs only a little bit more to develop a product that can sell around the world compared to just Canada. If you are successful, you should be able to sell 10 times more product for almost the same development cost. So, in effect, your R&D costs are times less per unit shipped by going global and that can boost your profitability. It can also lower your prices making you more competitive in Canada, as well as abroad.
Can you share the best lesson learned from a bad exporting experience?
The business partners you choose to represent you abroad greatly impact how those customers view your company. Choose those partners well, work closely with them, and visit customers together with them. If you don’t and your partner is unethical or not well perceived, your company brand can be destroyed in that country for years and you may never even realize why.
When it comes to exports, what do you know now that you wish you knew then?
Don’t always trust your business partners and distributors to have your company’s best interest in mind. They do what makes them the most money – and that’s perfectly understandable. You need to earn their mind share and time, you need to train them, you need to visit customers together with them and follow up on them. Business partners are not employees.
What is the #1 thing new SMEs need to know about exporting and trade?
Make sure your product is truly world class before you try to go big. There’s a ton of competition out there and you can burn through a ton of cash learning that the hard way. The other thing is that having the best product in the world won’t guarantee sales – you have to develop trust and relationships out there as well.
What is the one characteristic that you believe every exporter should possess?
You have to be determined to become the best in the world in some category of what you do. In Canada people may buy from you because you’re Canadian, nearby, an easy choice, a friend, or whatever. Going global, you have to be exceptional to really break in.