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Communication helps build up export push

HOW do you manage dealers in 48 different countries, many in the third world, with just a marketing staff of two? That is the question facing Elizabeth Natta and Stephen Nicholson of Q-Mac Electronics.

Q-Mac makes the HF90, a high frequency radio transceiver — the type used by ham radio operators — that is billed as the smallest in the world.

Because of its portability, the product’s principle users are military, paramilitary, aid and relief agencies.

Its main market is Africa but now is starting to expand into Asia, the Pacific and some former USSR countries. Its turnover has increased by 50 per cent a year for the past two years.

Because of its very narrow customer base, the three and a half year old company was exporting within three months of opening.

Ms Natta said finding and qualifying dealers was difficult and because there were so many markets “we can’t visit them all”.

“But visiting dealers is very important in exporting,” she said.

Ms Natta said a dealer’s ability to represent the product was important but equally vital was their willingness to represent the product.

“You need to see how much business they are going to devote to your product,” she said. “Also, is there going to be a product champion at the dealership? In our case these are often ham radio operators who take an interest in our product.”

Ms Natta said dealers with contacts were crucial.

“Our Chinese dealer went to school in Beijing with many of the top government officials,” she said.

“And our Pakistani dealer had nothing going for him but his contacts. He was a former army major who now works for the agency that licences radio products being used in Pakistan. We had to go through him or our product could have been barred.”

Mr Nicholson said some countries restricted the type of technology that could be imported.

“There are usually lengthy approval processes to go through,” he said. “It’s important the dealer in that country will see the process through. It can be quite costly for them.

“We work a lot with United Nations agencies and sometimes we have to be clever in how we get our product to them. In some cases the imported technology can’t be seen to be superior to that which the military in a country has. Often it attracts an import duty that can double its cost.”

Ms Natta said one way to dodge the duty was to send the radio in component form. It is then assembled in the country — bringing in local content and removing some of the duty.

Ms Natta said dealing with aid agencies often meant filling orders at short notice.

“With the Kosovo crisis we were called by World Vision and were told we had to get some radios to them in four days,” she said. “We had to send the radios out that day to meet the deadline.”

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