You have to squint to read the bottom lines of the eye chart in Andrew Buettner's Severna Park office. It's a novelty-type chart, with letters adding up to words.
"Success goes to those whose vision is never clouded by inconvenience or blinded by setbacks," the bolder toplines say before the letters shrink almost to nothingness. "It belongs to all who set their sights clearly, keeping a watchful eye open for opportunities."
The message fits the export business, says Buettner, a 56-year-old trading company president who works from his home.
Opportunitiesare out there, he says, as plain as the words on his office wall. But to see them, you really have to look.
"On that map, the world islarge, expansive," he says, motioning to a map in an office cluttered with computers and books. "But the world is now in the palm of yourhand. We have the world on the computer."
Databases and computer bulletin boards on three IBMs link the president of ALB Associates Trading Co. to hundreds of international customers, seeking everything from medical equipment to roller skates.
Though the bulk of foreign customers want American-made computers or software, Buettner believes there's a buyer for just about everything.
"If you have a product that's selling here, you can sell it anywhere," says the Baltimorenative and former owner of a Glen Burnie store that sold unpainted plaster statues. "The only difficulty is knowing the procedures."
Through his computers, Buettner can find out the best place to sell orbuy products or services in the international market, contact world trade centers, place ads in international trade journals and other periodicals and send faxes or telexes.
He can take a client through the whole procedure, ensuring he gets the proper letters of credit, insurance, financing, dock receipts and packing lists -- or simply place an electronic bulletin board ad.
With a touch of a few keys, Buettner can find out the Philippines wants contractors to dredge channels, France wants soap and detergents, Spain wants jeans, costume jewelry and small toys and Saudi Arabia wants barley, wheat, corn and gas masks.
Buettner, who works alone with the help of an international network of business contacts, says county companies have failed totake advantage of exporting, especially during tough economic times.
Among local companies, American Urethane Inc. of Gambrills sends urethane roller-skate wheels to Portugal; Design Systems & Services Inc. in Annapolis sells boat-building software; Paul Reid Smith Guitars manufactures guitars for Australia, Europe and Germany; and Synergics Inc. in Annapolis consults on South American hydroelectric power plant projects.
Often, cultural differences and impatience trip up business transactions, he said. Few Americans would know that in Arabnations, someone rubbing his face with his left hand would be considered unclean and, therefore, offensive.
"You have to be able to negotiate on equal terms, not your terms," Buettner said. "We always want foreign countries to buy things the way we use them instead of theway they use them.
"We in the U.S. want things yesterday and are not willing to wait," he said. "One who is willing to wait between 12and 18 months will be successful."