When Chris Hanks began looking to import coffee beans from Vietnam for his cafe in Augusta, he discovered that there was a huge demand for industrial trucks in the Southeast Asian nation.
That led him to launch an export business, buying used trucks in the U.S. off auction sites and shipping them to Vietnam, averaging $2,500 profit on each truck.
The business reached more than 100 trucks per year before Mr. Hanks gave it up to teach entrepreneurship at the University of Georgia.
He told the story of the truck company Tuesday to an audience of more than 100 at the Metro Atlanta Chamber to illustrate the potential power of overseas trade, particularly how business opportunities can multiply once you enter a new market.
A simple purchase like coffee beans led to large trucks, which could have further led to truck parts, medical supplies and many other products in demand in Vietnam, he said.
Tuesday’s seminar, which also featured Jim Beach, cofounder of the website TheEntrepreneurschool.com, was sponsored by Atlanta-based United Parcel Service Inc. and was the first in a series. Additional seminars will be held in San Jose, Calif., Dallas, Chicago, Cleveland and Providence, R.I.
UPS is participating in President Obama‘s push to double exports over the next five years. The company’s chairman and CEO, Scott Davis, was recently named to the President’s Export Council.
The company hosted U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke in February to announce that it would work with the Commerce Department to help small and medium-sized companies find new export markets. Less than 1 percent of U.S. companies export, and of those that do, 58 percent export to only one country, Mr. Locke said at the time.
A study released Monday by the Brookings Institution ranked Atlanta as 13th in the nation in the value of exports.
Metro Atlanta’s top export is listed as tourism and travel. Money a citizen from another country spends in Atlanta on everything from taxis, food, entertainment, clothing and lodging was counted as an export.
Jorge Fernandez, the Metro Chamber’s vice president of global commerce, said Atlanta should be proud of the ranking.
“This report lists the top 100 top metropolitan areas in the U.S. and we are in the top 15,” he said. “More importantly, it identifies opportunities.”
Tuesday’s seminar helped “demystify” the process of selling abroad, said Mr. Fernandez
Mr. Beach and Mr. Hanks talked about the low-cost help available from the U.S. Commerce Department to small and medium-sized companies looking to sell abroad, such as the Gold Key Service.
“If you go to Egypt, they will show you around for three days, give you a translator, take you on appointments,” said Mr. Beach.
They also stressed the importance of having a reliable business partner in the country where you are selling. And they discussed the use of bank letters of credit, which can ensure that as long as a company delivers the product, they get paid.
In the business that sold trucks to Vietnam, for example, Mr. Hanks required the buyer to purchase letters of credit from a bank in Atlanta that served as a payment guarantee.
“There was only one way I was not going to get paid for that truck and that is if Suntrust Bank went out of business,” he said.
The seminar provided valuable information on overseas trade, said Mark Liu, whose company, Prosperity International LLC tries to link providers of raw materials such as copper with factories in China and other countries.
“There’s a ton of opportunities overseas,” he said.
For more on the Brookings study, click here.