Back in 1991, when Trenton-based Tektite Industries first moved into the global sales arena, President Scott Mele corralled contacts by exhibiting at a trade show in Houston where he hung a sign saying, “Export Distributors Invited.”
He got some leads, then “visited some companies overseas, and our first deal was to make a private label product for La Spirotechnique (now Aqua Lung International), a scuba equipment company founded by Jacques Cousteau.”
Tektite manufactures and distributes rugged equipment, including LED flashlights and replacement bulbs, dive lights, strobes, signaling lights and knives for the military and outdoor, industrial and public safety markets. The company rings up between $1 million to $5 million a year in sales, and has an average of eight permanent employees, hiring additional ones depending on seasonal needs.
Mele was an international sales manager at a similar business before he launched Tekitite in 1990, “so I knew about the global opportunities,” he said.
“It can be difficult getting into the international market if you’re just starting out,” he continued. “I’d recommend researching potential markets first, then target trade-only events that attract distributors or representatives from your market, then follow up with the people you meet.”
Mele said he’s also been helped by programs like the New Jersey State Trade Expansion Program (NJ STEP). Funded in part through a grant with the U.S. Small Business Administration, the New Jersey Business Action Center runs NJ STEP, providing financial awards on a first-come, first-served competitive basis to eligible small businesses that either are experienced in exporting or are just starting out in overseas markets.
“STEP has helped us to go overseas to countries like England, France, Israel and India to set up at trade and military shows, as well as to U.S. events that attract a lot of overseas buyers,” according to Mele. “The grants cover a substantial part of the costs; without them it might not be feasible to go to some of these trade shows.”
A world stage offers plenty of opportunities, but also plenty of scammers.
“We’ve had people try to scam us with some sophisticated fake orders,” Mele said. “A few years back, a legitimate company went out of business, and someone took over its domain name and tried to order $600,000 worth of equipment from us. But we’re pretty careful and do our homework before shipping to anyone. We use the internet to check on how long a website has been operating, how deep it is and who it’s actually registered to. The U.S. Department of Commerce can also help with background checks.”