Tales from the export; three upstate companies talk foreign markets

Tires, passenger vehicles, and kazoos. What do these items have in common?

South Carolina leads the nation for exports of these products, with customers overseas creating livelihood opportunities for our state, which exported more than $32 billion of South Carolina-made products in 2017 and has seen export increases in each of the last eight years.

More than BMWs, Michelin and Kazoobie Kazoos, companies all sizes have seen growth as a result of involvement with foreign markets.

Leaders from three Upstate middle-market companies – American Foam & Fabric, Boyd Cycling, and Rödl & Partner – shared their experiences recently during the Upstate Global Competitiveness Council’s Grow Your Business through Global Connections event.

From a Greenville bicycle wheel and rim producer approaching its tenth year in business, to a Spartanburg County-based automotive after-market textile producer that opened in 1990, to a Germany-based CPA firm that specializes in serving German companies who have located within the United States, a common theme resounded: South Carolina has the resources to help your business grow.

Key to accessing those resources?

“Realizing what we do not know, and being OK with asking questions – not being afraid to look silly or dumb,” says Nicole Johnson, Director of Sales for Boyd Cycling.

The company employs 10 in the Upstate who design products in the United States that are produced in Taiwan, imported to Greenville for final assembly, and shipped to customers all over the world: Europe, Australia, Asia.

Boyd Cycling originated as a start-up, and it called upon resources like NEXT Upstate, the SC Small Business Development Center (SBDC), South Carolina Research Authority (SCRA), the S.C. Department of Commerce’s International Strategy & Trade Division, and the U.S. Commercial Service to help navigate growth and new markets.

“I have a million stories of help,” Johnson adds. “We had a boat coming across the water with all our rims, and the freight forwarder forgot to file our bond, so we couldn’t get our products through customs, although we had customers waiting who had paid us for their orders. I called the SBDC, who called the U.S. Commercial Service, who made a few calls and ultimately helped have the products released.”

That experience introduced Boyd Cycling to the U.S. Commercial Service and connected them with an invaluable resource that was “well worth every penny”: the organization’s Gold Key Service, which reached out to the embassy in target markets of Germany and the Netherlands and helped line up 15 appointments with prospective distributors.

The S.C. Department of Commerce offers similar market exploration services, and also offers travel assistance to South Carolina companies, providing the opportunity for them to participate in foreign trade missions.

American Foam & Fabric, which has an office in Greer and a 400,000 square-foot distribution facility in Lyman, started in only 10,000 square feet of space. Today, the company’s 47 employees see opportunity “where they drive cars,” says founder Ed Flanary.

“Ask me who else does what we do, and worldwide, I couldn’t give you a name,” he says. The company works with textile producers such as Milliken & Co. and Sage Automotive Interiors, identifying uses for its discarded materials and products in foreign countries from the Middle East to South America.

“I’ve become known as the garbage disposal of the textile industry,” Flanary quips. “Kind of like the cereal commercial: I’m Mikey, I’ll eat or sell anything.”

Flanary says that word of mouth helped his niche market grow in its early stages, and more recent business growth has result from a combination of focused travel and research, as well as online presence.

For Boyd Cycling, internet inquiries have resulted in sales, a platform that almost 40 percent of middle market firms report as connecting them to international customers.

Doing business in unfamiliar territory does come with challenges – tracking product in transit, complying with import documents, knowing who to trust and establishing your company’s overseas credibility – but Johnson and Flanary agree the challenge is worth its weight in worn out passports, life experience and business growth.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Flanary added. “And summing it up, it’s all those things, hard work and good luck.”


Are you a middle-market company based in the Upstate and interesting in exploring new means of growth? Click here for more information on the Upstate Global Competitveness Council.

You can also check out Upstate SC Alliance to learn more!

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