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How Ferris Mfg.'s Top Export Executive Took The Company Global


From the June 2001 edition of Managing Exports

Today healthcare distributors around the world supply Ferris products, accounting for 25% of total company earnings. Compare this with 97% of Ferris Manufacturing Corp.'s ( annual revenues from domestic sales in 1996. How did Ferris accomplish such a rapid turnaround? The challenge for Jeff Dzuira, Ferris' director of international sales and a 20-year veteran of the company, was obvious: how to take the company global for really the first time.

Dzuira knew his company had a good product. ¤We offer a stellar, quality product, expeditious service, and flexibility in meeting the requirements of the global marketplace,Ë he explains. Dzuira decided to capitalize on this ability to deal with change: ¤Diversity of markets spreads the risk while maximizing the potential for growth in emerging markets.Ë The success of this strategy is illustrated by Ferris being awarded the Governor's Excellence in Exporting Award for 1998 and 1999 (based on growth of international sales for a small Illinois business) and Industry Week's Top 25 Growing Companies Award for 2000.

PolyMem Magic

Since 1977, Ferris has been a licensed medical device manufacturer, employing 30+ workers and generating annual sales of about US $10 million. In 1988, its founder and CEO, Robert W. Sessions, patented a formula for his drug-free and irritant-free wound therapy treatment, PolyMem. PolyMem stimulates the body's self-healing abilities and reduces painful wound dressing changes. The bellwethers of the professional wound care market immediately embraced PolyMem upon its introduction.

A Single Global Market

Dzuira began by visualizing the world as a single market and with this outlook researched and contacted every government office that he could. Utilizing the resources of state and federal agencies helped him secure the Governor's Export Award. ¤I learned of a subsidy available to us through the federal and state governments that would help fund our participation in Medica '96, the world's largest annual medical device exhibition, held in Dusseldorf, Germany,Ë he notes. ¤This venue launched our international sales campaign. The first Medica show yielded us over 140 qualified leads worldwide and secured our first large block of distributors.Ë Soon Ferris found itself addressing unanticipated barriers such as regulatory policies and packaging issues. ¤Our packaging needed to be redesigned with multilingual text and accompanying instructions for use█often with the assistance of the designated, new distributor, Dzuira explains.

The Tricks of International Trade

Dzuira stresses that the turnaround didn't happen overnight. It took Ferris three months to secure an international distributor and sales didn't materialize instantly. Due to the inchoate nature of marketing medical products abroad, it was mandatory to seek prior approval█another three months█from the USFDA

Dzuira's 10 Tips for Taking on the World

  1. Get company-wide commitment. Every employee at Ferris is a vital member of the international team, from customer service through engineering, purchasing, production, and shipping.
  2. Research and map out your export journey. Do your homework.
  3. Know where you want to go and go there. Know your destination.
  4. Take that decisive step and follow it up with sensible judgment. Jump in with both feet first, but keep them firmly planted on the ground.
  5. Keep your ego in check. Don't let the prospect of ¤going globalË inflate your ego and cause misjudgments.
  6. If it smells, looks, or feels bad, don't try to rationalize otherwise. Trust your instincts.
  7. Treat people as you yourself want to be treated. People are basically the same worldwide; it doesn't matter where you are. Awareness and respect of cultural protocol demonstrates honesty and goodwill, and this leads to trust, which in turn leads to mutually profitable relationships.
  8. Make personal contact with attentiveness, courtesy, professionalism, and consistency. In-person visits are vital to building a relationship with rapport.
  9. Factor in a three-year lead time for world market penetration. It takes time and patience.
  10. Welcome the unknown, in a global agora. Don't let the prospect of the unknown frighten you. Rather, learn to welcome it, take it apart piece by piece, and then slowly digest it all. The rewards can become great indeed.

Here's how Dzuira sums up the exporting success of Ferris. Very simple: hard work, persistence, a quality and marketable product, and most importantly, again, commitment from the top. He adds, ¤The lessons I learned have not come from seminars, textbooks or advice; rather, they have come from practice in the global playing field which hones the necessary skills to succeed in the marketplace.

This guest article is by Laurel J. Delaney (, recipient of SBA's Illinois Exporter of the Year Award and author of Start & Run a Profitable Exporting Business (Self-Counsel Press). Delaney runs Global TradeSource, a Chicago-based global marketing and consulting company. Her SmallBizGlobal Marketing Group welcomes members:

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