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In The Export Jungle, Idaho Businesses Roar Jim Hunter, President Of Hartford Communications Of Post Falls, Says Patience Key To Success In World Markets

In the jungle of international marketing, some Idaho companies know what it takes to succeed: finding out what potential customers need and how to best supply it.

Patience was the key for Hartford Communications of Post Falls, which refurbishes used telecommunications equipment. It has customers in 14 foreign countries, and is particularly interested in expanding into Latin America.

Hartford has racked up some impressive figures already.

President Jim Hunter said the company has grown fourfold in the past four years. International sales, just 1 percent of its market four years ago, now are 15 percent.

It’s one of the few companies to venture successfully into China.

“Patience in choosing the right partner was the key,” Hunter said. “We were very careful in the process of selecting the right partners in China.”

Idaho’s manufactured exports continue to soar, climbing 22 percent last year to $1.63 billion. Nationwide, manufactured exports went up only 15 percent.

The 22-percent increase in sales abroad meant an extra 5,800 jobs for Idaho’s economy, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Hartford Communications was one of several Idaho companies honored at the recent World Trade Day conference in Idaho Falls. Lt. Gov. Butch Otter called them the “cream of the crop” for their success in expanding export sales.

Another of the top exporters is Idaho Pacific Corp. of Ririe, which processes dehydrated potato products including flakes, flour and granules. Its ingredients are used to make bakery goods and snack items.

“You have to have quality products and you have to meet the customer needs,” President and Chief Executive Officer Richard Zirkelbach said. “You have to offer the customer the service-type things they want, the shipping schedules, arrivals and the documentation.”

The effort has been worthwhile. Idaho Pacific’s sales have grown about 400 percent and its employment 50 percent in the last six years. About 30 percent of its sales are abroad, mostly to the Pacific Rim.

Zirkelbach said the overseas trade possibilities are endless for anyone in the agriculture business.

“When we hear about snack-food plants being built in the middle of jungles,” he said, “I think there’s a great opportunity out there.”

Jacklin Seed Co. of Post Falls already was the world leader in production of turf grass seed before emphasizing international sales, but it keeps getting bigger because of its success in meeting customer needs.

Matt Emmons, chief of international marketing, said Jacklin Seed decided up to 15 years ago that it had to have a product mix for other countries.

“Our firm commitment, even 15 years ago, was that we had to have products for the more rapidly developing portions of the world,” Emmons said.

It found varieties such as Zoysia, native to eastern China, which turned out to be adaptable to climates ranging from subtropical to Indiana.

As a result of being responsive to its customers, Emmons said Jacklin Seed controls 75 percent of the market in Japan and 60 percent to 70 percent in Korea. It also is the No. 1 supplier of turf grass seed in China.

The secret is understanding the customers.

“It’s finding out what they want, and meeting the need,” Emmons said. “It’s going to those places and knowing the market that is there.”

Idaho grass seed growers are sharing in Jacklin Seed’s success. The company has expanded its contracts with southern Idaho farmers and Emmons said it continues to seek new growers.

Another export award went to the Idaho Wheat Commission for innovative marketing approaches on behalf of Idaho’s wheat farmers. Holding on to foreign customers is not easy in the highly competitive world wheat market.

“It’s going to the customer, finding out what the customers need,” commission administrator Mark Samson said. “It’s coming back to our producers and explaining to them, ‘Here’s what the customer’s end-use requirements are.”’

World sales are vital to Idaho wheat producers. Up to 80 percent of Idaho wheat in recent years has been exported - about 100 million bushels a year.

A couple of years ago, the Wheat Commission went to flour millers in Korea to find out why they weren’t buying.

“Our wheat was not meeting their requirements,” Samson said.

That information was taken to a farm research center in Aberdeen, which developed a new wheat variety to meet Korean needs. The commission hopes to get 3,000 acres planted in the variety.

“We basically went out and contracted with producers and grew 800 tons for the Koreans,” Samson said. “We’re test milling now.”

Another key is knowing what the competition is doing. Canada, Australia, Argentina and the European Union all are wheat exporting nations.

A few years ago, Idaho growers “got our tails kicked overseas,” and the Wheat Commission sent agents to customers to find out why. Based on what it found, Samson said, “We have tailored much of our export programs to meet the competition.”

Like Hartford Communications’ Hunter, Samson said patience is a key element in dealing with foreign markets.

“In the United States, we are used to things happening very quickly, looking at the bottom line. Frankly, when you are in the export business it takes three to five years to get a program going,” he said.

“If companies are not willing to allow that time, it is going to be a waste of effort in the first two years.”