How do you get a T-Rex through customs? This isn’t the opening of a bad knock-knock joke, this is routine for Research Casting International, a restoration and exhibit creation company based in Trenton, Ontario. The company, headed up by Peter May, has been in business for more than 30 years, and is sought after by the some of the world’s most renowned museums.
Recently the Research Casting team was invited by the Smithsonian to complete the restoration and casting of a full size Tyrannosaurus Rex. The job is being completed in Trenton, before being shipped to Washington to be assembled; a project that seems out of this world, but is standard practice for this small company.
May and his team are no strangers to exporting, although their experience might be a little different than the average business.
“Our business is almost 100 per cent reliant on exporting, it’s just become part of our world and it’s not something we can see as a barrier,” says May. “The last time we tried to cross the U.S. border with the bones of a complete T-Rex, one of the border guards asked if he could bring his kids over to take a look. A border guard probably has some interesting stories but I guess that would be one of the more unusual,” he adds.
The team also encountered problems when they went to cast a mold in the jungle in Costa Rica, only to find on arrival that their equipment was held up at the border. It seems that paleontological scanners aren’t so common-place. Needless to say, they build in some extra buffer time for shipping now.
May’s career began completely by chance when he responded to an unusual job classified for a paleontological technician at from the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM).
“The ad said it was looking for someone who is good at creating moulds and likes camping,” says May. “I thought sounded a bit odd, but why not!” May had trained as a sculptor at the University of Guelph but had no prior knowledge of paleontology. When he arrived for the interview and had the opportunity to look at some of the moulds being created by the museum. “It was like nothing I had ever seen. I couldn’t help but dive right in. I think I was there for a few hours looking at their process and working with the casting materials.” May was offered the job on the spot and his career in exhibit restoration was born.
Since working at the ROM, May has travelled and lived around the world, expanding his expertise in restoration. Here in Canada, their team can be credited with many of the exhibits we see in our own museums, including the fossil exhibits at the Canadian Museum of Nature and many of the casting and restoration from the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller, Alberta.
In 2007 May and his team considered expanding their business by opening a satellite office in the UK. The tourist industry created so much demand for their services that is seemed like a good location for a second hub. Unfortunately the financial crisis hit, and museums were losing funding, making restoration of ancient pieces not such a hot market. He has since seen more growth in the market and sees it as a possibility in the future. “We’re really watching the market and what happens to the euro,” says May. “It would make travel and shipping much easier, but for now we have everything we need here in Trenton.”
What you have in common with a dinosaur?
While exporting prehistoric creatures might seem like a far cry from the everyday Canadian business, the challenges encountered by Research Casting are not that different from the average exporter. For instance one of the biggest roadblocks for Research Casting is getting paid promptly for their work. Between currency conversion, permits, shipping and receiving, the process can sometimes take months. This makes it extremely difficult to take on a new contract, and uses a lot of working capital.
If your product is unusual, or is related to agriculture and animal products, it’s best practice to talk to some regional experts before you start exporting. May and his team were recently commissioned to complete some work for a museum in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Getting permits and approval for import is something May and his team are accustomed to, but it can create some serious delays in completing a project.
Before you get ready to export, talk to the regional Trade Commissioner Service and ask for any insights in the area, or information on import tariffs.
“Countries in South America, like Argentina, can sometimes have unique import restrictions and protocols to abide by,” says Ana Garasino, Trade Commissioner to Argentina and Paraguay. “The Canada-Argentina trade relationship is very good however, and we can offer connections to business leaders who will help your company break into the market.”
Export Development Canada (EDC) also has products that can help protect you from the uncertainty of payment, and the risk of entering new markets.