Turning the tables: U.S. manufacturers find plenty of help selling abroad
“Made in the USA” doesn’t necessarily have to mean “Sold in the USA.” Many U.S. manufacturers are finding a ready market for their products overseas, where certain big-name brands carry a cache because they’re American-made. But this welcome mat also extends to small- and medium-sized manufacturers in a number of home improvement and building product industries. Those who are leery of conducting business overseas should know there is plenty of free or inexpensive advice and support available from both the U.S. government and private trade groups promoting U.S. exports.
The International Trade Administration (ITA), a division of the Commerce Department, has representatives around the world looking for — and vetting — trading partners for U.S. companies. Back in Washington, D.C., products are divided up into categories or “teams.” Gary Stanley is the acting directing of the Office of Materials Industries, which has agents in charge of (among other things) adhesives and sealants, building materials, lumber, paintings and coatings, wood products and a green building initiative.
“U.S. products are competitive in the medium and high-end specialized segments of the market,” Stanley said. He’s talking about things like renewable energy, energy-efficient products, green building products and certified lumber.
Other popular exports, according to Stanley, are air conditioning and HVAC products, lumber and wood panels, structural metal, and windows and molding. With 16 different Free Trade Agreements in place with various nations, exporting can be a tariff-free exchange, Stanley explained. Central America is an especially good trading partner, he added.
The ITA does market intelligence reports for certain products, estimating the size of the competition. It will also conduct due diligence on possible trade partners, and advise on custom issues, shipping needs, and required export licensing and documents.
The number of Free Trade Agreements — especially in Latin America — provide plenty of opportunity for regular trade missions. Last summer, an ITA specialist led a delegation of U.S. companies to Brazil, which is hosting the upcoming World Cup (2014) and Olympics (2016). Brazil is hoping to showcase green infrastructure and architecture, which means opportunities for suppliers of energy-efficient lighting, smart systems for energy automation and management, water treatment, on-site renewable energy, and the use of recycled materials in design and construction.
U.S. companies looking for peer-to-peer assistance in learning the export ropes can go to the Worldwide DIY Council, an organization comprised primarily of American and Canadian manufacturers selling to overseas hardware markets. It’s a disparate group — members range from young entrepreneurial firms to large, well known manufacturers — which shares contacts and sponsors pavilions at international trade shows.
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Sears adds Great Indoors to closing list
Sears quietly added all nine of its Great Indoors stores to the list of store closings on Feb. 23.
Store managers were informed on Thursday, a Sears spokeswoman confirmed, but no exact date has been given for the closings.
The upscale remodeling and home décor stores began opening in 1998, long before the Sears and Kmart merger. At one point, Sears operated 20 of the units, but they were never a big moneymaker for the company.
The nine remaining stores are located in Scottsdale and Chandler Ariz.; Lone Tree, Colo.; Lombard, Ill.; Gaithersburg, Md.; Novi, Mich.; Columbus, Ohio; Farmers Branch and Houston, Texas.
After posting a $2.4 billion loss for its fourth fiscal quarter, parent company Sears Holdings announced it would divest some of its real estate portfolio to help bolster its retail operation. This included some of its smaller Hometown and Outlet stores for $400 to $500 million as well as some hardware stores, as well as 11 stores to mall owner General Growth Properties to raise $270 million. That deal, which includes stores that are currently located on GGP properties, is expected to close in April.
An updated list of Sears and Kmart store closings, part of a plan announced in late December to eventually close 100 to 120 stores, can be found here.
Andersen begins conversion to cleaner fleet
Andersen Corporation opened a new Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) fueling station near the company’s Menomonie, Wis., plant.
Located at the Cedar County Cooperative Cenex, this station provides a new alternative fuel source for Andersen as it begins to convert its transportation fleet to CNG, reducing both operating costs and carbon dioxide emissions for the company.
The CNG station is the result of a unique partnership between Andersen, Dart Transit Company, U.S. Oil (a division of U.S. Venture, Inc.), Breakthrough Fuel, and Xcel Energy, and highlights a new type of market collaboration implementing this new technology. The conversion of the first seven trucks to CNG will reduce emissions by 28 percent per year. The total savings that Andersen will gain in moving to CNG will range between $1.25 and $1.75 per gallon, depending on the market price of diesel.
“We believe finding new ways to use alternative energy is one way to help restore economic growth for everyone, and this project shows how the rubber literally meets the road,” said Lance Whitacre, vice president, logistics at Andersen Corporation. “Leveraging this unique partnership today yields far-reaching benefits for us that improve the triple bottom line – good for people, profitable for companies and beneficial for the environment.”
Natural gas vehicles show an average reduction in ozone-forming emissions of 80% compared to diesel-powered vehicles. Additionally, more than 99% of the natural gas used in the United States comes from domestic or other North American sources.
Compared to liquefied natural gas and diesel fuel, CNG has the lowest price, lowest emissions and an extensive infrastructure in place. Of the 1,000 CNG stations in North America, though, less than half of those are truck-friendly.
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