Appeared in the North Idaho Business Journal – October 29, 2013
By Mike Patrick
Let’s say you stay current on big-picture stuff, so the following bullet points elicit not wonder, but yawns:
• 96 percent of the world’s population lives outside the U.S.
• 67 percent of the world’s purchasing power resides outside the U.S.
• 87 percent of global growth is expected to occur outside the U.S.
Fine. But did you also know:
• Less than 1 percent of America’s 27.2 million businesses export
• The majority of those who do export, export to only one foreign market
Now, repeat after Bill Jhung, director of the Idaho Small Business Development Center in Post Falls: Wake up, you dummies! Export and flourish!
OK, Mr. Jhung didn’t quite put it that way. But he did see a tremendous opportunity for a number of North Idaho businesses, which his center serves through North Idaho College, and he has finally found the missing link between regional businesses making exportable products and the sprawling international markets eager to consume them.
“This is the part we needed,” said Jhung, nodding toward the ISBDC office housing his business coaches and other staff. “We didn’t have a resource to change the business model, to take them global. It took me three years to find someone with this skill set. I knew they were here — I just couldn’t find them.”
Ladies and gentlemen, meet George W. Atchley, Jhung’s solution to filling North Idaho’s trade deficit with the rest of the world. “I can’t name names, but all the big players in North Idaho are working with him,” Jhung says proudly. Lucky you, there’s plenty of room for more.
His title is Export Business Coach, but watching the man work, another title comes instantly to mind: Friend.
You can find out for yourself by giving Atchley 20 minutes of your time. That’s what R.D. Davidson of Coeur d’Alene’s 21st Century Scientific did recently, and now the makers of custom, high-end wheelchairs is well on its way to expanding its market — and its bottom line.
“I spent 13 years in the medical business so when I went to 21st Century’s website, I was kind of blown away by the YouTube videos I saw,” said Atchley, whose sales and marketing career spanned more than four decades. “They were ready to go international; some aren’t.”
“So far it’s been a great working experience,” said Davidson, 21st Century’s chief operations officer. “We’re in the part of the process where we’re figuring out where to sell and how to improve our marketing strategies.” In Davidson and 21st Century, Atchley quickly recognized enormous potential. The company builds wheelchairs that do more than you probably thought possible. They can raise a person to within easy reach of the top shelves in grocery stores, or even up to a standing position so they can look another person in the eye — or fish if that’s their preference.
In fact, mobility is one of 21st Century’s most outstanding features. The standard wheelchairs can go from 7.6 mph to 11.6 mph, using batteries that last all day. They can be equipped for off-road trailblazing, opening doors that had previously been slammed in the faces of disabled hunters, hikers, and other outdoor adventurers. The chairs ain’t cheap: They start at $12,000, and the day NIBJ visited, finishing touches were being put on a $52,000 “ high-performance machine” that can reach a top speed of 16 mph.
“In essence, that’s what this is,” Davidson said when someone mentioned that they can cost as much as a very good car or truck. “These are people who have serious injuries. They get in these in the morning and they get out at night. In that way, this —” Davidson pointed at a wheelchair — “is their life.”
Founded in 1978 as a wheelchair component builder, 21st Century decided a decade later that it made more sense to construct the whole vehicle itself. Since then, Davidson said, they’ve been building and selling several hundred a year — 99 percent out of state but none, really, beyond U.S. borders.
That’s where Atchley comes in. His working experience in the business world gave him a strong foundation to serve now as the coach, and he’s eager to connect with a lot more regional product-makers like 21st Century Scientific.
“I went through pretty much the do it yourself path,” Atchley said. “The beauty of what SBDC offers is the number of resources we have and the depth of experience.” Working closely with the Idaho Department of Commerce in Boise, the center at Post Falls is very careful to stick to its mission.
“Our role is to come in and enhance what you’re doing, not tell you what to do,” Atchley said. “What we give is a resource potential that does not step on their independence.” The whole process of exporting products can seem overwhelming, and while there are critical issues that must be addressed, Atchley & Co. can help.
“It’s not really that complicated,” he said. “If they look at the whole staircase they may think, ‘That’s more than I can climb,’ but we’ll take them one step at a time.”
Taking as an example a fictitious North Idaho company that makes Idaho-themed coffee cups, steps might include:
• Defining the customer by analyzing the target market domestically.
• Looking at international possibilities — where do they drink a lot of coffee?
• Calling on the Idaho Commerce Department to help narrow the international market for coffee cups.
• Determining what regulatory hoops exist in those international markets, and help the business jump through them.
• Examining who are buying the product in that country and determine how they’re purchasing the product. In short, define the market channel.
Here’s a universal truth from Atchley: “If there’s interest in the U.S., there’s interest elsewhere.” With exporting, each market has a pyramid — the top will spend whatever it wants on whatever it wants, with little or no regard to price. The bottom of the pyramid, Atchley contends, is comprised of many more people whose only real consideration is the price. “But when we’re talking about exporting a product, there is a number — a price where everybody can make money.”
That’s why it’s worth your 20 minutes to huddle with George.
Are your products missing potential buyers around the world? Find out by contacting George Atchley, export coach for the Idaho Small Business Development Center, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 769-3284. There is no charge for a consultation.
The ISBDC is offering a two-hour class, “Growth through Exporting,” on Nov. 20 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The class will take place at the center, 525 W. Clearwater Loop in Post Falls. Cost is $10, which includes lunch. Advance registration is required; call (208) 665-5085.