Location: CalgaryExports as a percentage of sales: 100
Main export markets: France, Germany, U.S., Middle East, India, Mexico
Finalists: Blackline GPS, Calgary; Swift Environmental Equipment Ltd., Edmonton
Breaking into the international market isn’t something that happens overnight. John MacDonald, president of Brimrock Group, says his company found success in 2012, but only after spending its first five years in the planning and development stages. Brimrock, a sulphur processing technology group that provides consulting services and on-site services to energy companies, was launched in 2006 by MacDonald and his partners. There were several technologies they wanted to develop, but it wasn’t until 2009, when the Texan company Martin Resource Management recognized Brimrock’s potential and bought the business, that MacDonald and his partners had the financial backing they needed.
“Once we got the technology set up, we went through the phase of morphing from technology development to technology marketing,” MacDonald says. “Our focus from the beginning was always international, and our plan was developed specifically for that because we all had a background in international business. Once we got to where we wanted to be, it wasn’t a huge culture shock for us to break into the international market.”
Having all of its sales coming from international exports might seem odd for a company in Alberta that specializes in the sulphur industry. But MacDonald says despite the amount of drilling activity, there hasn’t yet been a lot of domestic demand for their technology, although that could change. “We’ve focused internationally where production is growing.” But MacDonald says the company is open to the domestic market if opportunities arise, even if it isn’t actively pursuing them.
If its financial results are any indication, Brimrock’s move into the international market has been a success. The company’s 2012 revenue was up 300 per cent from the previous year and is expected to continue growing in 2013 and beyond. There’s nothing sour about that.
Exports as a percentage of sales: 80
Main export markets: U.S., China, Russia, Saudi Arabia
Finalists: Datacan Services Corp., Red Deer; Nelson Environmental Remediation, Spruce Grove
Sealweld’s products speak for themselves, but where the family-owned company really shines is through its training and educational services. “In our case we are very specialized,” says Dean Chisholm, the company’s president. “We don’t have a lot of direct competition because there’s nobody that delivers the complete package like we do.”
That’s helped the company, which focuses on the safe reduction and elimination of pipeline valve leakage, to do business abroad. The company’s first international market was the U.S. but it has since gone on to provide products and services to 90 countries, with a particular focus on those that have increased their use of natural gas.
While the technical challenges of valve fitting and maintenance are the same around the globe, Sealweld has found a way to overcome the cultural barriers that exporters face when doing business in new places. That’s especially true when it comes to its training services, which have been translated to several languages.
The payoff, both for Sealweld and its clients, has been considerable. Chisholm estimates that over the last two years, the company’s products and services have saved its clients over $2 billion by ensuring that pipelines were able to remain active. And while the quality of the company’s products have played a role in that success, it’s a commitment to service that has really sealed the deal. “We follow up our products with the top-quality service,” Chisholm says. “What we do is show you how and then leave you with this knowledge for the future.”
Knowledge is something that’s best acquired from as many sources as possible. That’s Aamna Zia’s philosophy, which makes sense considering she recently graduated as an international business management major from the University of Lethbridge.
Zia values the time she spent at the university, but what’s been equally important to her is the time she’s spent away. In particular, she thinks the semester she spent studying in France is an experience that will prove to be invaluable.
That wasn’t the only exposure she’s had to international business, either. Zia recently returned from a co-operative program working with a banking firm in Malaysia. While the basic fundamentals of banking are universal, Zia says the way businesses conducted themselves in that part of the world differs from what she’s seen in Canada.
“I didn’t realize how much more global the Asian market is than we are in Canada,” she says. “Their mindset was to automatically look outside their border when it came to growth and expansion.”
Zia’s short-term goal is to pursue a career in corporate advisory, but rather than take her knowledge overseas, she plans to stay in Alberta and apply what she’s learned to help others bridge the divide between the two. “A lot of what I learned was the importance for a company to have a growth and expansion plan first,” she says. “Once you know that plan, the financial aspect comes a lot easier. My goal would be to help apply some of the same concepts over here. Companies should never be afraid of distance or cultural difference.”
Exports as a percentage of sales: 75
Main export markets: China, Russia, Indonesia, U.S.
Audrey Mascarenhas is one of a select group of people who can say she earns a living by making the world a better place. As the president and CEO of Questor Technology, her professional life is dedicated to eliminating gas emissions in a safe and sustainable way.
With a technology that focuses primarily on eliminating waste gases through methods other than flaring, Questor’s main market is the U.S., where recent regulations in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Act have led to increased enforcement of anti-flaring regulations. “The U.S. has some very tough but fair emission rules in place right now,” Mascarenhas says. “Companies need to have a high efficiency, and our efficiency rate is 99.99 per cent.”
As a result, Questor’s revenue in 2011 from its U.S. operations alone increased roughly 450 per cent on a year-over-year basis. It continued to grow in 2012, Mascarenhas says, primarily through word of mouth.
Mascarenhas says that although Canada isn’t as strict on emissions, she expects that to change and when it does, both Questor and the country as a whole stand to benefit from the company’s technology. “I really believe that if we are going to address the public concerns about the industry of oil and gas development, then technology is the key to ensuring that it’s done sustainably.”
Exports as a percentage of sales: 28
Main export markets: U.S., Southeast Asia, South America, U.A.E.
When Ryan Holt and his partners bought LJ Welding Automation in 2006, the furthest the company had ever exported to was Saskatchewan. Fast-forward seven years and the company has a completely redesigned product line and customers in 34 countries. Talk about reinventing the wheel.
“Our exports have gone from making up zero per cent of our revenue up to 28 per cent,” Holt says. “That number would probably be a lot higher but our local growth has been really strong, too. Alberta is a phenomenal market for what we do. We could probably see higher immediate revenue if that was our main focus but we’re really thinking long-term as far as our exports go.”
Since Holt and his partners bought the company, they’ve implemented further innovation into its product line by using the engineering backgrounds that several of them hold. This has led to a niche product line, including integrated high-end welding systems and a growing emphasis on robotics. Holt says that’s left LJ Welding in the enviable position of having only one direct competitor in Canada.
Diversifying the product lines and the markets have led to success for the outfit. Since 2006 the company’s revenue has increased tenfold, and in 2012 it generated $20 million in sales. Holt is obviously proud of the financial success his company has achieved, especially when it comes to exporting, but that’s not the only reason he’s enjoyed having international customers.
“Our product really speaks for itself and that makes the sales process pretty easy,” he says. “We definitely don’t shy away from a challenge either and I think that helps, so it’s been really exciting. Doing business in countries all around the world is actually a lot of fun.”