International outlook

The Kölner Dom, or Cologne Cathedral, is about 518 feet high, and visitors who climb its stone, spiraling steps to the top are offered an unsurpassed view of the city below. From this perch—until the Washington Monument was constructed, the Dom was the tallest structure in the world—one has a vivid view of the Rhine, Cologne’s down town, suburbs and beyond.

It’s one of those views that offers a unique, mind-stretching perspective. Walking through the International Hardware Fair/Practical World last month offered me a different kind of view. With visitors from 62 countries and 3,375 companies presenting their products, the show gave me a world-view of the home channel.

I walked away from the event excited not only by the interesting products on display, but by an intense feeling of opportunity for American companies to do business overseas.

First of all, there’s the dollar. “I think, because of the weakness in the dollar, and therefore the impact on the prices of our members’ products around the world, exporting is more attractive than ever,” Tim Farrell, president and CEO of the American Hardware Manufacturers Association, said.

Farrell, whose organization has been bringing U.S. manufacturers to Europe for 25 years, understands that it is not only a weak dollar that makes American products attractive, but a world-leveling playing field that has changed the nature of the mercantile arena.

“The distinction between domestic and international is becoming increasingly irrelevant—it’s globalization,” Farrell notes.

He’s right, and trade show operators, like Reed Exhibitions and Koelnmesse, long-time internationalists, are increasingly putting American retailers and manufacturers together with their counterparts internationally. Reed just bought a trade show in Moscow, and Koelnmesse is involved in a new initiative in Spain.

Is the world flat? Well economically, it is certainly becoming more so. Here’s how Pieter Bottelier, adjunct professor of China studies at Johns Hopkins, put it in a published report.

“China’s meteoric rise has surprised most observers, with its economy easily outperforming even the most optimistic expectations. In recent years, China became the world’s fourth-largest economy and third-largest trader. Goldman Sachs predicted in its BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) study that China would become the world’s second-largest economy somewhere around 2015 (third-largest if the European Union is counted as one).”

It is certainly in the interest of U.S. manufacturers to learn the nuances of international exporting, and throughout the coming months HCN will be providing information to help the process along.

Will the 21st century be an era of international opportunities? The view is becoming increasingly clear.

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