How to Build a Global Market — These People Can Tell You

Following Apparel Offshore

Established in 1968, Henderson Sewing Machine Co. Inc. supplies industrial sewing machines, parts, supplies and custom-manufactured devices for the global sewn products industries. CEO Frank Henderson says the company had no choice but to go global when worldwide trade agreements began changing the industry 30 years ago. “The world became flat for our industry with the advent of bilateral trade agreements, ” Henderson says.

Three decades ago, the Andalusia company’s customers began insisting “they must move to more off-shore manufacturing to continue to grow their businesses because of the availability of labor, cost of labor and the growing markets for their products in other countries, ” Henderson says. In response, the company began exporting its products and services to continue serving its long-time customers. Today, the company exports to more than 30 countries from Morocco to Fiji.

Henderson Sewing distributes more than 440 vendor products, which are imported from 38 countries around the world, and markets these products to 6, 800 customers in 36 countries globally. Even in tough economic times, Henderson Sewing is adding staff, equipment and technology to continue delivering products and services that are important to its customers.

Henderson Sewing Machine Company, Inc.
Headquarters: Andalusia
Employees: 26 
Established: 1968
Export Markets: Latin America, West Indies, Morocco, Italy, Fiji, Egypt, Canada, Philippines, Trinidad, Belgium, Vietnam, France, Germany, Barbados, Hong Kong, India and Brazil

Made-in-the-USA Safety 

George Kappler (right), president of Guntersville-based Kappler Inc., made his first export of hazardous materials suits to Sweden in 1982 and now has distributors in more than 20 countries.

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Photo by Brent Miller

Founded in 1976, Guntersville-based Kappler Inc. is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of chemical protective clothing for hazmat, industrial and military markets. The company began exporting to Sweden in 1982, says George Kappler, president, and now enjoys a robust international business with a global network of sales representatives and distributors in more than 20 countries.

International business constitutes 15 percent of the company’s total sales, and the company ships to every continent except Antarctica, Kappler says. “It is always nice to receive recognition for one’s work, ” Kappler says of receiving the Governor’s Trade Award, and giving a special nod to employees in customer service and shipping.

Exports have been a major factor in strong sales performance in recent years. Last year, the company saw double-digit sales growth, allowing the firm to increase its workforce by 17 percent.

Kappler says the “Made In USA” label that adorns all Kappler apparel has taken on increased esteem during the past decade, and the quality and reputation of the Alabama-produced products has proven to be a plus even outside of the United States. 

Kappler, Inc.
Headquarters: Guntersville
Employees: 150 
Established: 1976
Export Markets: Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Trinidad, Venezuela, Peru, Brazil, Puerto Rico, China, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, South Africa, Israel, Chile, Australia, Germany, Greece, UK, Norway, France and Switzerland

In 2005, MCM Vehicles bought Starcraft Vans, which had been exporting luxury limo vans since the 1980s.

Lux Armored Cars, Over 75% Exports

Founded in 1979, MCM Custom Vehicles customizes General Motors vehicles into executive limos, luxury armored cars or handicapped transport. The firm has customized more than 100, 000 vehicles under its various brand names—Southern Comfort Conversions, Starcraft, Star Limo and MCX.

In 2005, MCM Vehicles “grew its way into exporting through the acquisition of Starcraft Vans, ” says Michael McSweeney, the company’s CFO. “Starcraft began exporting luxury limo vans globally in the mid-1980s. As a result of the 2007-2008 economic turmoil affecting the domestic automotive market, our core business refocused our sights on increasing our market penetration in Asia.” As a result, in 2009, international sales represented 63 percent of the company’s total revenue, and in 2010, 77 percent.

While the domestic automotive market has now rebounded, exports remain an increasingly important ancillary revenue stream. MCM Vehicles has added 39 employees since 2009, increased revenues by 324 percent, and invested more than $1 million in research, development and equipment. During 2012 and 2013, the company’s international sales initiatives are focused on the Middle East and North Africa.

“We are extremely honored to be thought of as a model exporter for the State of Alabama, ” McSweeney says of receiving the Governor’s Trade Award. “Building an export business is a marathon of perseverance made up of market due diligence, long sales cycles, refined and sometimes totally reconstructed business models, and a whole lot of trial and error. This process can be mentally exhausting for our employees, who are responsible for increasing our global exposure, which makes this award particularly rewarding to recognize their efforts.”  

MCM Custom Vehicles
Headquarters: Trussville
Employees: 60 
Established: 1979
Export Markets: China, South Korea, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Japan and Finland

Over 50% Exports, 100% Space Age

AZ Technology Inc. was born in founder Lynn Leeper’s experiments conducted during the first joint U.S.-Russia spacewalk outside MIR and came to earth in Huntsville in 1990. That early research became the groundwork for the company’s current products, such as thermal control and conductive paints and coatings for spacecraft and terrestrial applications.

During the past three years, AZ’s manufactured products and services have expanded by more than 75 percent, according to company officials, mostly due to exports, which grew by 32 percent, to 58 percent of sales. The company has experienced particularly rapid growth in exports to Russia and China. As a result, AZ recently has hired agents to represent their interests in these markets, translating websites and offering training for product use. Plans call for a seasonal office/lab in St. Petersburg, where their technicians will visit to conduct comprehensive training courses, as well as perform various instrument calibrations and repairs. 

In addition to conductive paints and coatings, AZ’s other products include optical properties measurement instruments and services and laser-source simulators for seeker-readiness tests of laser-designated weapons. The company also supports the NASA Integrated Communications Support services contract. 

AZ Technology
Headquarters: Huntsville
Employees: 19 
Established: 1990 
Export Markets: Russia, China, South Korea, France, UK, Japan, Canada, Argentina, Israel, Switzerland, Spain, Norway, Germany, Finland and Mexico

Mid-America Engine began exporting to Mexico and now supplies mobile power plants all over the world, including U.S. bases in Afghanistan.

Power to the People

Mid-America Engine launched in 1978 to provide marine generator sets along the Mississippi River. A year later, founder Keith Coleman ventured to Mexico City “seeking people to sell to, ” he says. Although he spoke no Spanish and had rarely been more than 300 miles from home, he “made good contacts and began exporting diesel engines and parts to Mexico and Latin America, ” he says.

Today, Mid-America Engine and its family of companies have installations all over the world. Its EPG division created and built mobile diesel and natural gas-powered modules with both 50 and 60 hertz capabilities to meet portable power generation needs worldwide. Another division, AGT, designs and supplies turnkey gas turbine power plants that provide utility-grade power, almost exclusively for export.

Now headquartered in Warrior, Mid-America Engine has one overarching goal—to design a system that will meet the customer’s needs, whether it is a single genset to power a small business during a power outage or a 100-megawatt multi-unit power plant that provides primary power to an overseas installation.

Mid-America Engine
Headquarters: Warrior
Employees: 22   
Established: 1978
Export Markets: Russia, Romania, UK, Venezuela, Caribbean, Mexico, Canada, Netherlands, Germany, China, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Honduras, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Iraq

CentraLite designs systems that control the home environment—starting with the lighting.

Command Central for the Home

Based in Mobile, CentraLite designs and manufactures energy management and lighting control systems. Since 1997, the company has focused on developing products that reduce energy consumption—products they now sell to distributors in almost 50 countries.

In 2010, Schneider Electric branded CentraLite’s energy management product under the name Cassia and sells it to its worldwide hotel group. In addition, CentraLite has contracted with top U.S. and international cable companies to provide its ZigBee wireless HA and OpenSMA lighting, as well as energy management devices. The company also works with U.S. cable companies, such as Comcast and Time Warner, and with international cable partners in Canada, Europe and the Middle East, achieving several hundred percent year-over-year growth.

Led by President and CEO Jimmy Busby, CentraLite works with an open design system for easy integration with third-party devices. 

Headquarters: Mobile
Employees: 36  
Established: 1997
Export Markets: Africa, Asia, Australia, Canada, Caribbean, Central America, Europe, India, Mexico, Middle East, New Zealand and South America

Dothan-based Dunbarton Corp. exports its metal door frames to Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico, U.K., Russia, Spain and Australia.

Exports Emerge in a Recession

Founded in 1956, Dunbarton Corp. moved to Dothan in 1973. The company manufactures doors and accessory products—folding closet doors, mirrored doors and such—used in residential and light commercial construction.

Led by President Oscar Hughes, Dunbarton distributes its products throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom. During the past several years, Dunbarton also has exported to Russia, Spain and Australia. Export sales increased from 2 percent in 2009 to 5 percent in 2011.

Dunbarton currently is negotiating with a Japanese company to produce one of its products in Dunbarton’s Dothan facilities.

The company employs about 200 people in Dothan and 20 at a smaller facility in Tennessee.

Dunbarton Corporation
Headquarters: Dothan
Employees: 200                          
Established: 1956      
Export Markets: Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom and Puerto Rico

Nancy Mann Jackson is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Huntsville.

By Nancy Mann Jackson

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