TradeTips Blog
How to Establish a Low-Cost USA Business Presence
By Jim Pettinger

For a small BC business, the terms "export" and “international trade" are, at best, confusing. At worst, they are downright intimidating. Consequently, many people tend to overlook the largest, richest and most responsive market in the world that lies, quite literally, right at our doorstep - the United States.

My philosophy is that with proper planning the United States can and should be approached - even by the smallest business - just like an extension of the BC or Canadian market. Sure, you face an "international boundary", but once basic procedures are developed to deal with that, the rest can be very smooth (not to mention lucrative) sailing.

The secret is think domestic. Establish a USA "presence" for your business - at least in the minds of your customers. In other words, organize all the logistics of your business so that your American customers have no extra concern dealing with a Canadian versus. a USA firm.

Remember, you do not have to pretend that you are not a Canadian. On the contrary, one of the major problems with the USA economy is the preference of Americans for foreign goods. But, if you want Americans to buy your foreign goods, you have to anticipate and solve their potential concerns in various. areas, such as how to order, speed and reliability of delivery, training, customer service, and returns and repairs.

Ultimately your goal may be to have one or more major wholesalers distributing your products through a network of dealers and agents. But, that takes time and money to develop. Initially you should look to establish a low-cost USA business address, then act as your own sales agent, importer, wholesaler and distributor. Later, when you have established legitimate sales credentials, the big boys will start calling on you.

Methods that have been used by small BC companies to successfully carry off this strategy include some or all of the following:

  • A USA post office or (preferably) street address for receiving mail, parcels and subscriptions.
  • A USA telephone number or North American 800 toll-free number.
  • A USA warehouse to store literature and /or products for prompt response to inquiries and orders.
  • A USA bank account and credit card merchant account for processing payments and paying suppliers.
  • USA mail metering services for business correspondence and bulk mail.
  • USA shipping and/or courier accounts for fast, low-cost delivery.
  • USA citizen agents or employees for carrying on some basic business operations and customer relations.

None of the above "devices" needs to be expensive. In fact the lot can be had for a base cost of $300 per month or less. Any additional cost should be relative to transaction volume, that is, recovered from actual USA sales revenue and profit.

As a final check on your "appearance" to a typical USA prospect or customer, place yourself in his or her shoes to see if you pass muster in the following key areas:

  • Product Design (including documentation). Does your product look and feel like other American products? Are the operating instructions free from "our’s" and "re's" (e.g., Canadian spellings such as favour and centre)?
  • Lead Generation. Can your prospect easily respond to your solicitation to a USA address or phone number? Will the person on the other end sound "American"? What is the prospect's perception of delivery, operation, service, etc.?
  • Closing the Sale. Now that the prospect knows who you are and is ready to sign the cheque (oops, I mean check), will he or she have any concerns about delivery, operation, service, etc.?
  • Fulfillment. Can you fill the order today from your USA warehouse? Or do you have to place a real live sale in jeopardy by having to start figuring out customs forms, tariff codes, freight rates, etc.? Can you provide a sample in a hurry? Or expedite an emergency shipment? How will you handle returns and replacement of damaged or defective products?
  • Customer Service. Satisfied customers usually lead to fewer returns, more business referrals and /or additional sales. Do your plans cover all aspects of the post-sale cycle?

Once your USA business "presence" is in place, you are now a full-fledged North American business, able to sell and service on either side of the border with equal simplicity. All that is left for you to do is concentrate on marketing and sales and, hopefully, figuring out how to spend all those 100-cent USA dollars. 

Jim Pettinger, is president of UCanTrade, Inc.

From its Ferndale, Washington facility, his company provides Canadian and other companies with USA business identity, warehousing, distribution, order fulfillment, tradeshow materials management and returns processing.

Contact Jim at (360) 380-6900 or visit ucantrade.com.

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