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Expand Across the USA – Take a Bigger Piece of the American Pie
Business growth is always the goal of many mid-sized companies and SMBs (small and medium-sized businesses). These days that elusive target butches head on with a sluggish economy known for its false starts and mixed signals. If a company offers a good product or service and is well managed, the bottom line grows as a natural byproduct of a strong economy. But in these lean days of commerce, to achieve significant market growth a firm has to go back to four basics: sell more to existing customers, find new customers, create new products/services for existing customers, or find new customers for new products.
Here, we will focus on a mid-sized company’s efforts to find new customers. The easiest way to accomplish this is to move the firm’s products to new markets. Much attention is paid to finding overseas locations for sale. The United States Commerce Department has been largely supportive of these efforts, and some companies have benefited. After all, the world represents 95% of the available customers for industrial and consumer products. But the reality is that many SMB and midmarket companies don’t have the resources, knowledge or desire to engage in international trade. Add to that the lack of patience to get returns on exports and it quickly becomes impractical for a company looking for a quick increase in sales.
So, if a company doesn’t want to go to other countries with their goods, they have to look at expanding at home – in America. And it’s not like this is a second-best option to consider. After all, we are still the largest economy in the world. American GDP (gross domestic product – the total value of all goods and services produced in the country) is a whopping $15 trillion. The US GDP is equal to the sum of the GDP of the following three countries. For many mid-sized companies that don’t have the resources or market knowledge to enter foreign lands, expanding across America is the best option – expand at home and grab a bigger slice of the American pie! Developing part of a company’s strategic plan for such efforts is easier than doing business internationally. By directing their efforts to enter new markets regionally or nationally, a company can more easily obtain market data, deal with banks, and operate in familiar territories. Please see the chart listing the GDP of the top 15 countries in the world. Which country would you like to set up your business in (and know best!)?
Any business that wants to expand needs its products/services (market), infrastructure (equipment, tools, buildings, etc.), skilled workers, a clear business model of where and how to make money in the business, and finally demand. Capital required to fuel all these factors.
Consider a small company trying to grow its business. American Yogurt Company based in Princeton, New Jersey has started a new rage after Greek yogurt called American Yogurt. It runs a small factory that makes yogurt for grocery stores and runs its own yogurt shops that do brisk walk-up business. The management team realizes that it has reached its maximum impact in the New Jersey area and it is time to move elsewhere. Two plans have been drawn up and the executive board has to decide which way to go.
The first plan envisages taking the company to Western Europe and other European countries where there is a strong buzz about the new American yogurt. The potential customer base is huge for both wholesale and retail but the barriers to starting this process are daunting. The company will be dealing with a new business culture in which they will have to operate. This includes understanding the new culture, distance and time zones, regulations, suppliers and channels in the new land, etc. In addition, the business model that operates in corporate New Jersey will have to change significantly to operate in these new countries. Getting relevant market data and doing actual marketing will require a decent investment. There will be some real problems in finding local staff and obtaining the necessary financing. Securing new capital is difficult enough for a medium-sized company under the best of circumstances, but trying to get local banks to back such an overseas endeavor is difficult.
Another plan is to take the company into the New England and Chicagoland markets with new factories and stores. Research shows that grocery stores will be very receptive to selling American Yogurt products, and the company’s walk-up stores will also do well. It will be easy for the company to implement this process. It is easy to determine the business incentives both areas offer to find the best locations for factories and shops. A business model that proved successful in New Jersey can easily be adapted to new metro areas in the United States. Many existing suppliers can still be used with new locations, and HR people can find local workers using existing hiring practices. Market data is more easily accessible and understandable. Banks will be more comfortable lending money when the enforcement risk is low.
There are also some great bonuses for following the domestic growth option. The management team will have no cultural differences when dealing with people from the Northeast or Chicago. (Okay – not many cultural differences anyway – but it’s a lot easier than learning and dealing with British or German or French – you get the point). You can chitchat about football and baseball between Chicago or New England winter meetings and wind down. It has a lot in common. Another bonus is that American yogurt is not in Europe – adding jobs and economic growth to American locations.
Whether a company makes yogurt, car parts, or widgets, this example is largely true. It is much easier to find a new market in your own country than to go to an unknown foreign land. Regardless of a company’s specific industrial location, the US market is still the largest economy in the world. And if market data shows a location in the USA worth expanding to, finance experts will look more favorably on the company than opening a factory in Berlin. Redeploying staff, managing assets and leveraging existing supply chains all become easier and increase profits faster. Also, have you noticed that companies from countries that are prolific exporters find the US market ripe for further expansion? When German companies saw markets in Asia slowing down, they turned their attention to increasing market share in the US. Why can’t American companies (and foreign companies already here) expand into the US market?
A small or medium-sized company may find itself constantly competing with foreign competition. Time to take advantage of the home field. Cities and states encourage expansion in their areas. There are government programs that a firm can take advantage of when setting up new facilities in the US and hiring local workers. America still has a great infrastructure that shows ease of transportation, communication and financial transactions.
Deciding to take an active expansion step and actually doing it are two very different actions. A handicap many mid-sized companies have is that when they need to grow and decide to do so, they lack the resources or know-how. By their very nature, small and midmarket companies are lean and have a small team of overworked managers running the business. It is difficult to reallocate personnel resources for such a large undertaking. And, often, there isn’t nearly enough disposable cash to bring in a consultant to help create an expansion plan.
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