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The “how-to’s” of Internet marketing & Expanding into the US

Raven Bay Wood Products has some suggestions on how to set up an effective marketing presence on the Internet and how to expand into the US market.

Companies looking to export to the US market should become familiar with tariff issues, such as the softwood lumber countervail, and the possible impact on their products.

The use of the Internet in the forest industry continues to grow. To help companies looking to set up, or improve, their Internet marketing, Bay Wood Products, a BC-based wood products marketing consulting company, recently developed a “to-do” list exclusively for Logging & Sawmilling Journal. And for those smaller companies looking to take their sales to a higher level and expand into the US market, they have a hit list of the 10 things a company should do before exporting to the US.

10 Key Things To Do Before Exporting Your Products to the US

  • Establish an account with a reliable customs broker at least a month before your first shipment over the border. Your customs broker is a valuable source of information about export regulations and related costs. The broker helps take care of all the cross-the-border paperwork to ensure that you’re doing things correctly.
  • Become familiar with any tariff issues that may affect the cost of exporting your product, e.g. the softwood lumber countervail. In the wood flooring business, for instance, flooring made from softwoods must be end-matched (tongue and groove on all four sides) to meet the requirements for the value-added exemption to the softwood lumber countervail.
  • Keep an eye on the value of the Canadian dollar versus the US dollar and adjust prices accordingly. Your financial institution should track this daily. You probably won’t put a deal on hold because the dollar dropped a few cents, but you should be aware of the trends and how the dollar is affected by world events.
  • Transporting your product to the US adds significantly to the cost, but you can still be competitively priced against “local” goods if you explore shipping options. If you plan to ship a container load or more regularly, establishing a relationship with one or two shipping companies can help ensure good rates and reliable service. If you ship packages of materials sporadically to different locations, some of the online transportation brokers may provide good shipping rates.
  • If you don’t live in a major border city, getting your product to the nearest one is usually the first step in transporting it across the border. If your buyer isn’t in a big hurry for the product, explore whether a local trucker or transportation company can take your product to a border city as a “backhaul.” Backhaul means they’re going to drive to the city anyway to pick up goods, so they may take your product at a really good rate just to have some kind of load going into the city.
  • Communicate with your customer regularly to keep them posted on how their order is coming. Regular e-mails and/or phone calls make it seem like you’re not so far away, and show that you care about their business. help capture the interest of potential customers.
  • Many trade associations have members in both Canada and the US and have compiled information on import/export issues that affect their members. If you haven’t already, consider joining a multinational trade association that covers your products.
  • Talk to people at companies that make similar products and who are already exporting to the US to learn from their experience. If approached in a friendly way when they’re not rushing to meet a deadline, most people are actually happy to share their knowledge and experience.
  • Attend a large trade show or two that includes your kind of products. People at trade shows are there to talk and many of them will likely have experience exporting products similar to yours.
  • Unless you are shipping in a container that you pack and that won’t be opened except by your customer, research and develop packaging that will protect your product through multiple loadings and transfers. Be sure to talk to your customer about what kind of material handling equipment they have, if any, then package your product appropriately.

The web site for Theden Forest Products (see story on the company on page 30) follows the guidelines of being graphically simple and using large, good quality photos.

10 Keys to Success for Internet Marketing

  • Use your web site to tell potential customers about your company, your products and how you do business. Keep it graphically simple and use large, good-quality photos of your product. Customers won’t be impressed by how many streaming videos and flashy graphics you have; in fact, sometimes these can get in the way of allowing the customer to see and learn about your product.
  •  People like to learn, so providing educational information about your product and your industry on your web site can help capture the interest of potential customers.
  •  Having a web site isn’t enough—people have to be able to find your site. That means learning how search engines, such as Google, work and ensuring that you provide the search engines with the information they need so you show up on a search conducted through that site.
  •  Consider advertising with a couple of the leading search engines. As the Internet grows, a potential customer’s search can find literally thousands of “hits,” and yours could be way back in the pack. Paid advertising can put your web site link in a prominent position.
  •  Even if you don’t have a web site, you can use existing Internet marketplaces to promote your product. Online auctions such as eBay offer a seller-to-buyer marketplace that’s easy to use and gives you visibility on a national or worldwide level. Industry-specific product exchanges such as the Lumber Exchange and the Machinery Exchange on www.woodweb.com  offer more targeted online marketplaces. For a look at how some forest industry suppliers have set up their sites, refer to Logging & Sawmilling Journal’s site at www.forestnet.com  and check out the links.
  •  Many trade associations have web sites and online forums that facilitate communication between their members. Some associations also have classified or online advertising opportunities through which you can reach their membership.
  •  Look for complementary and compatible products that have web sites, then contact the companies and ask if they’d like to exchange links. If you provide a link on your web site that takes viewers to their site, and vice versa, you both can benefit. Plus, some search engines, notably Google, look for linkages in evaluating the merits of sites for ranking in their search directories. The more links going to and from your site, the better.
  •  Don’t forget to promote your web site on your own printed literature and “traditional” advertising such as telephone directories.
  • You don’t have to do “e-commerce” to have a web site. However, if you do want to enable customers to actually buy your product over the Internet, several online payment services such as Billpoint and PayPal can help simplify online transactions, especially for purchases under $1,000. For larger purchases, you may want to consider an escrow service to facilitate the transaction.
  • You may never actually speak to some customers, but don’t forget that communication is still the most essential sales tool. Use e-mail to respond promptly to inquiries and to keep customers posted on what’s happening with their order.
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