Airlines play matchmaker Contacts: Two air carriers recently took representatives of nine Maryland companies to the Netherlands on an inexpensive trade mission.

November 29, 1996|By Jay Hancock | Jay Hancock,SUN STAFF

A story in Friday's editions of The Sun incorrectly identified the organizers of a recent trade mission to the Netherlands by several Maryland businesses. The mission was organized mainly the World Trade Center Institute of Baltimore, with help from World Trade Center Amsterdam.

The Sun regrets the error.

The time to export is now. The dollar is competitive. Overseas economies are reviving. Trade expertise in Maryland is growing yearly, and Gov. Parris N. Glendening wants to export $9 billion in Maryland goods and services by 2000.

The problem, as any would-be global merchant will tell you, is access.

How do you make the contacts, learn the channels and find the customers when they're speaking a different language and living a different culture across a deep, wide sea? Commerce is getting more automated, but business deals everywhere still require the contact of eye and hand.


Some international shippers are trying to play matchmaker. In mid-November, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Northwest Airlines took representatives of nine Maryland companies to the Netherlands on a trade mission.

The airlines, which work closely together and have route-sharing agreements, subsidized the trip, set up meetings with Dutch business people and generally paved the rough spots between salable products here and needy customers there.

Their hope is that any resulting export deals will boost their cargo business.

The mid-November trip produced "tremendous results," said Penelope Menzies, director of the World Trade Center Institute in Baltimore, which helped set up the trip. "This is the best foreign excursion I've been on. It was short, sweet and successful."

The best part: Each participant paid just $400 for the plane fare and all other expenses in Holland.

"We really don't do much in the Netherlands," said Paula Harmon, director of the international division of Davis Instruments, a Baltimore-based distributor of measurement and control equipment. "It was a very quick, easy way to see a lot of companies in a short amount of time. They set up all the appointments."

Harmon usually manages to make about four overseas trips a year, as Davis tries to boost its business in Latin America and Asia as well as in Europe.

On this one, she met with several distributors, selected one for the Belgian market and "met with four Dutch companies, all of whom I'm doing follow-up work with to see which is the best fit for Davis."

Aqua Flo, also based in Baltimore, makes water- and air-treatment equipment using ozone-based technology. With about $2 million in annual sales, the company can't afford many trips abroad, but exporting represents about half its sales.

The KLM trip "was the opportunity to go over there and for the first time see my agent and also see a customer of mine over there," said Alden Coke, Aqua Flo's president.

"They'd both been to my plant on several occasions, and it was a very fortuitous thing for me that I was able to sell a couple of machines for the car wash industry."

By meeting with a European customer for several hours, Coke was able to eliminate competition from a Japanese company, he said. At the same time, he landed another distribution agent for ++ the Dutch horticultural market.

"We will get some new sales there," he said. "We've quoted some jobs already."

KLM officials were unavailable for comment. KLM's coordinator of the Maryland trip wasn't allowed to speak to a reporter without permission from headquarters, and a company spokeswoman did not return phone calls. KLM is based in Holland; Northwest in St. Paul, Minn.

But the airline "would like to do this at other ports around the world," said Menzies of the Baltimore World Trade Center Institute.

There should be no shortage of interest from Maryland businesses. "If you think about it, it's really a smart idea," said Harmon.

"This is the type of trip that small businesses like us really need," said Coke.

"The typical $5,000 overseas mission that's sponsored by some of the government agencies is totally out of line with what a small business can afford," he said.

Pub Date: 11/29/96

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