Finding their Way: N.J. Manufacturing Class is Teaching Companies such as Davion the Tricks of the (Overseas) Trade

Davion Inc. has built its North Brunswick-based business around making bargain-priced lotions, shampoos, mouthwash. And by bargain, company Vice President Jimmy Placa means really, really cheap.

The various dollar-store chains around the country are major carriers of Davion’s Personal Purity brand. It’s the reason the company has seen roughly 25 percent year-to-year growth the past five years.

Conquering this value-priced niche has given the company an opportunity to grab a new group of customers, ones hungry for low-cost, quality products that are made in the U.S.A. They just come with a catch: They are outside our borders.

The export market is one Placa knows his company needs to tap — but one he knew little about. So he signed up for a new program offered through the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, the U.S. Commercial Service and FedEx called ExporTech.

It’s a program where Jersey companies can learn the do’s and don’ts of doing business internationally.

“I think we have a lot of room to grow domestically, but I think that the opportunity to go overseas is a really compelling one,” Placa said.

“’Made in U.S.A.’ in and of itself is a brand overseas,” he added. “That, as well as the falling dollar, allows our products to be at achievable price points in international markets. So I felt that now would be the perfect time for us to focus on growing that part of our business.”

Although Davion has done some exporting — he estimates its just 5 percent of his current business — Placa welcomed the idea of participating in the ExporTech program, which got him in the same room with people who have much more international business experience.

And that was the point of the program, said Jeff Hoffman, an account manager with NJMEP.

“They have to work at it. It’s not easy. But by us bringing all this together in this kind of a seminar, we’ve cut down on so much of their time and money in order to get to that point,” Hoffman said. “It’s a return on investment, and I guess really the thing that it comes down to is these companies took advantage of this program because they saw ROI.”

The program was spread over three days between December and January. Three companies paid $3,000 to participate in the inaugural session.

Day one was a general overview of the exporting process and the various services available. Day two offered a more customized approach based on the needs of the companies. And day three was all about the final project: The companies were tasked with developing and presenting before a room of experts, an export marketing plan.

Placa said that was perhaps the most valuable takeaway from the program, which should be offered again in late summer.

“The process of just putting down in words and creating the presentation as to how you’re going to approach these markets, why someone should buy from you as opposed to China or somewhere else and just kind of crystallizing that information and just being able to talk through it to find what you think is your competitive advantage is helpful,” Placa said.

It also produced some tangible tricks that Placa already has adapted to his business.

For instance, Davion often struggles with determining which leads originating from foreign countries are viable and which are not.

“A lot of times, you’ll get inquiries, either through your website or even at trade shows, and those aren’t real customers so you spin your wheels a lot of times with these guys that really aren’t capable of purchasing from you,” Placa said.

When he approached one of the experts participating in the ExporTech program about this issue, the business owner provided him with a five-page questionnaire she had developed to serve that exact purpose. Placa has since adapted it to suit his own business — and hopefully save himself valuable time and energy.

Placa is hoping the insight he gained over the course of the ExporTech program will lead to more growth within Davion, which is in the process of opening a brand new manufacturing facility in North Brunswick.

“We’re one of the largest and one of the only U.S. manufacturers that still make value-priced merchandise,” Placa said. “I think we’re just being aggressive and have won business as a result of our competitors either raising price or failing to control costs on their end.”

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