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Sector leaders rubbish 'nation of samples' label

Published:Sunday | April 10, 2016 | 4:00 AMNeville Graham
Paul Lewis, deputy president of the JEA, and Diane Edwards, president of Jampro, at a Gleaner Editors’ Forum last Wednesday.

Leaders in the export and manufacturing sectors are dismissing talk that Jamaican exporters cannot deliver on the promises that they make.

They say that the tag that Jamaica is a 'nation of samples' - capable of producing but incapable of consistently serving big markets - is a little worn, and could be damaging to business over time.

Jampro President Diane Edwards also believes it demeans the track records of big local companies that operate in and supply markets around the world.

Also leading the charge is Paul Lewis, deputy president of the Jamaica Exporters' Association (JEA), who feels that the "overused label" stems from a misunderstanding of what is involved in engaging in exports.

"Any country or company that you are going to do business with from an export perspective, first and foremost, before you do anything with them, you have got to sample - and that is just a requirement," Lewis declared at a Gleaner Editors' Forum last week.

He says the label stems from a lack of understanding of what it takes to build and sustain an export market and that the dialogue needs to be more informed.

DISSECTING CONVERSATION

"We have to really dissect this whole sampling conversation because it can be misguided and it can be misrepresented, so we have to be very clear on what it means to sample for export or in the export arena and what the benefits are of it; so instead of using it as a negative, we understand the positives of it and play to that strength it has," Lewis said.

Jamaica Manufacturers' Association President Metry Seaga says the 'samples' label ignores the fact that all companies go through cycles and have to devise their own growth path.

"Companies are not born efficient; companies are not born with capacity. They have to build to it. I think that is why the expo is such a critical and important vehicle to allow companies at home to build and grow," Seaga said of the upcoming Expo Jamaica, an annual premier event that showcases Jamaica's businesses.

Lewis says the JEA has been working overtime to make prospective exporters understand that there is much more to trading with overseas partners than selling them something that they want. It's also about building relationships, and understanding the marketplace.

But he also said that as local companies overseas for business, knowing how to position their products was gaining to gaining markets, and it must be done with the acceptance that "even for a short time, we may be big on quality but small on quantity".

This has been the crux of the complaints that have led to the 'nation of samples' label - that Jamaican producers may initially entice buyers but then lack the capacity to fill consistent orders.

NOTHING WRONG WITH NICHEs

Lewis favours a niche strategy for Jamaica.

"We have to understand that as

a country or as producers and manufacturers, for the most part, we are niche in our proposition, and we have to understand that there is nothing wrong with niches - for example, caviar is niche. We just have to find our own lane," he said.

He emphasised that sampling is a precursor to entering any market and that the JEA constantly tries to remind exporters that they must not attempt to oversell and underdeliver; that they should seek out market intelligence on pricing structures, delivery deadlines and logistics.

Jampro's Edwards says the samples label belittles the efforts of local companies that are genuine players on the world stage.

"What it denies is that we have what we call home-grown multinationals. We have here a number of companies that are huge and internationally respected," she said.

"It is a little bit disparaging to for us to accept that term 'a nation of samples'. I think we have moved on very far beyond it."

Still, she also urged exporters to manage business relationships more adroitly and be more strategic in how they enter markets.

"We have to tailor the expectations and also the marketing strategies of our SMEs so that they target the right distribution channels and the right markets that deliver the highest margin for their products," Edwards said.

neville.graham@gleanerjm.com