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Secrets Revealed To Break Into U.S. Markets

By Kate Zimmerman
The Richmond News

Do you want to open up your market to 300 million people? That's the prospect for Canadians who want to do business south of the 49th parallel. It's an idea Richmond's Jim Pettinger is pitching to entrepreneurs.

Pettinger, a Canadian, is president of UCanTrade, Inc, a Ferndale-based company that provides information to a variety of B.C. businesses from manufacturers to business advisors to help them take advantage of the huge American market. The company is offering a one-day seminar called Doing Business in the USA on Thursday at the Ramada Plaza Hotel.

Many of our clients have been very, very successful in the U.S.," said Pettinger, noting that those clients include e-commerce businesses, artworks vendors, and manufacturers of both software and woodworking jigs.

Their most important first step was getting to know their potential marketplace.

Pettinger said Canadians think they know everything about the U.S. because they are exposed to it through the media. But they can't just start advertising to Americans from their Canadian base and expect new customers to come calling. They have to establish a presence - including an address - on American turf.

According to Pettinger, Canadians are well-positioned to tap into the American market, and he's not just talking about geography.

We're well-thought-of south of the border," he said.

Canadian goods and services are perceived as high quality and, because of the comparatively strong U.S. dollar, well priced. In addition, Pettinger said, Americans often prefer buying from a Canadian firm because they see U.S. sales people as "slick".

Also, Canada's domestic market is thought to be challenging because Canadians tend to be more conservative buyers. To some Americans, that means a Canadian company that is doing well here must have something special going for it, Pettinger explained.

Because of that, some Canadian companies are able to sell their goods or services in the U.S. almost at par.

We're just thought of as a cut above."

On the other hand, businesses trying to sell to the U.S. have to be able to make good on their promises - and fast. In that market, service is key. While Canadian consumers generally research potential purchases before buying, Pettinger said, Americans are more likely to make one test purchase to check the mettle of the company.

For American buyers it is crucial, however, that there not be any "foreignness" about the purchase process itself. Pettinger said Americans need to know that they can deal in U.S. dollars and have their product shipped from or returned to a U.S. address.

Many of Pettinger's clients show photos of his company's warehouse and staff to their American customers. Sometimes they arrange to have a Bellingham-based fax machine rerouted to the fax in their Canadian office. But most of their business is virtual, so no actual U.S. space is required. "It's just that illusion of being able to operate domestically."

While the Sept. 11 terrorist attack and subsequent beefing-up of security at the borders might appear to have made traveling to the U.S. more difficult, for businesspeople the reverse may be true, said Pettinger. Once a Canadian goes through the appropriate security checks such as fingerprinting and being photographed, he or she can use fast-track border crossings unavailable to more casual visitors.

A lot is being put into place by the Canadian government to facilitate doing business across the border," said Pettinger.

Most Canadians are unaware of the government programs available to help exporters, Pettinger said. They can learn about them at the seminar through Team Canada Inc, which provides links to all trade-related government departments and agencies.

For information, visit www.ucantrade.com.