June/July, 2000

From the Editor

Road With Many Paths

There is nothing wrong with buying product American companies produce in your home market, nor is there any problem with buying from a local exclusive importer or distributor.  Indeed, in many cases these local exclusive relationships are really kind of “master importer” deals, and the importer functions as if he were a salesperson working for the manufacturer.

Still, if one is determined to import directly, there are a variety of alternative paths to consider:

Buy from a U.S. Wholesaler or Exporter

Sure the manufacturer might not be willing to sell you the product directly, but doubtless the product is sold to thousands of customers in the U.S. Smaller buyers, say a small retail chain, often can get all the brands they need by approaching a U.S. wholesaler to provide mixed loads.

Larger buyers, looking for straight trailers, may have more difficulty, but overstocks are common and it seems that product is often available.  A few caveats: make sure the authorities in your company can accept the domestic U.S. packaging and be sure the price you pay is worthwhile compared to what you pay through a local agent.

Consider a Regional or Less Famous National Label

Just because a brand is famous doesn’t make it the best, and sometimes the biggest company is the one you are least important to.  All over the United States there are small, medium and large producers with their own brands, labels and rich histories.  It may take a little more work than selling a world famous name, but playing up a regional association – such as a Texas or California produced product – often sets the stage for big buying.

Look for Heritage Brands

Big companies who won’t make available their “crown jewels” due to exclusive arrangements are sometimes much looser with older brands that often are well known outside the U.S., particularly in markets that continue to show older U.S. television shows and movies.  Even in the U.S., these older brands are starting to experience rapid growth as the Internet provides a new distribution method.  For example, an almost defunct cereal by the name of Quisp has become the single best selling cereal on Netgrocer.com, an online shipping service for groceries.  This is despite the fact that sales of Quisp barely register in U.S. grocery stores.  The secret to Quisp’s success?  Aging baby boomers remember fondly old TV commercials from their childhoods.

Consider Private Labels

Often the label itself isn’t important but what matters is exclusivity.  This is common on certain commodities.  For example, if you are going to wholesale Florida grapefruit on a produce terminal market, the specific label may not be crucial, but what might matter is getting one label consistently and exclusively in your market so you can build up its reputation among your customers and avoid excessive price competition with others in your market.  If this is your situation you can often ask that a packinghouse reserve a special label just for you in your market.  The label may not be famous to start with – but you can make it famous, to your customers at least.

The bottom line is that branding is a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, well-known international brands come with built-in ready-made demand.   So carrying these top brands is something of a “no brainer”.  On the other hand, it is such an obvious winner that it attracts aggressive competition.  Sometimes an opportunity to work with a good product with a nice label and a supportive producer/exporter can be more lucrative and rewarding as you build up the demand for, and the reputation of the product.

So if you are ever feeling frustrated because that one salad dressing you want just isn’t available to you, take heart, the U.S. is a very big country.  In fact there are thousands and thousands of salad dressings produced by companies of all sizes, all over the country – surely at least a few of them are right for you and your business.  EXP