Selling overseas is nothing new for many outdoor businesses in the Brainerd Lakes area but for Larson Boats of Little Falls and Nature Vision Inc. of Baxter the effort has brought about some challenges.
For Larson Boats, which has shipped its products internationally for the last quarter century, the language barrier has been challenging.
But the company has found one solution. Its parent company, Genmar, has hired a special export group. This group handles all the money transfers and actual product exporting.
The entire line of Larson Boats, crafts ranging from 18 feet to 33 feet, is available to the worldwide market, said Mary Patrick, Larson Boats marketing manager.
She said that her company has nearly 100 dealers in other countries, including 50 dealers in Canada.
Some of the company's largest dealers are in Austria, Holland and Switzerland.
She noted that the company also is getting several inquiries off its Web site, which is updated monthly and lists all company products.
The company's Web site also allows customers to search for the nearest dealer, she said.
Patrick said her company also is researching making available different language options on its Web site.
Overall, she said that the boat business seems to be widening and the markets are getting better.
"Other countries are enjoying better economies and leisure time," she said.
Jeff Zernov, owner of Nature Vision and whose products include the Aqua View underwater camera, learned of another challenge with his company's Web site.
What a foreign country calls an item could be called something else in the United States.
As far as the language issue, Zernov said his company, which produces all of its items in the state, has hired some brokers. These brokers negotiate product sales and understand all the duty regulations and licensing.
Nature Vision purchases most of its components for its products from overseas, Zernov said.
The Aqua View underwater cameras have been sold in Australia, Asia, Canada and South America.
Zernov said most of these sales derived from the company's Web site.
Last year, his company's gross revenue was $5 million. By the year 2004, he is predicting gross revenue of $20 million.
"We could grow much faster if we had the revenue to grow faster," he said. "It takes so much cash to grow a company."
Lindy Little Joe of Brainerd is just starting to get into selling its products internationally, said Ted Takasaki, the company president.
He said that the fishing terminal tackle business is restricted geographically.
For example different areas of the United States use different types of tackle.
He said one way his company would begin to sell overseas would be to start attending international trade shows.
"We haven't really exhausted the potential in the United States and Canada," he said. "I always believe of taking care of your home first and then branch out."
Ron Kiffmeyer, the company's sales manager, said that Lindy Little Joe has made special floats or bobbers for clients in South America.
He added that even with the introduction of the Internet, he hasn't really seen a large increase in international sales.
"There isn't one product that really stands out on an international basis," he said.
He noted that the company's newest product, the no-snag sinker, has resulted in quite a few inquiries.
Some of these inquiries came from Germany, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Brazil and Russia.
In fact the very popular gold metal float, which is made by Mac Manufacturing north of Brainerd, had some European influence, Kiffmeyer said.
But there also has been an increase in the float business overall.
"We've had an extremely strong growth the last two years as a company," he said.
The company's Web site has been in existence for about this same time.
"Prior to (our Web site) people would have to get a hold of us and we would have to send a catalog," Takasaki said.
For example, the company offers a user booklet for the no-snag sinkers which can be downloaded to a customer's home printer.
Takasaki said 3,000 brochures of this product have been distributed over the Internet. Before the Internet, it would have cost 10 cents a piece to send those in the mail.
The company's Web site also has allowed customers to ask countless questions, Takasaki said.
"(Answering these questions) is darn near a full-time position," he said.
He said that the Internet also allows instantaneous feedback via e-mail on his company's products.
This enables the company to observe how well its products are selling too, Takasaki said.
"It does give us international exposure on our products," he said.
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