Modifying Products for Export - When Manufacturers Should Do It

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Exporting to global markets presents big opportunities for US manufacturers. They can expand their customer base and revenue streams by entering foreign markets and building themselves into global brands. There are considerations they must make before exporting, though. One of them is whether their products are ready for the export market.

US manufacturers must often modify their products before exporting them. They do this to meet regulatory, usage, and shipping requirements. They also do it to suit customer preferences in their target markets.

Many countries impose non-tariff hurdles on products coming into their country to protect domestic industries, safeguard the health of their citizens, promote environmental controls, or keep out low-quality goods. An example of these non-tariff requirements is industrial certification. For instance, companies that want to export to Europe must obtain a European Conformity "CE mark" for their products. To get the certificate, they must subject their products to testing by a European Notified Body.

Likewise, companies that want to export to China may need to obtain the China Compulsory Certification "CCC" mark for their products. The process of certification involves safety testing and inspection of a manufacturer's production facilities. To obtain these certifications, manufacturers may need to alter aspects of their products, such as design, content, packaging, and labeling, to meet the requirements of the testing authorities.

Companies that want to export to foreign markets must research their target markets to find out how to adapt their products for convenient usage. For example, the US electric grid runs on 120 volts, while in Europe and many developing countries, it's 240 volts. Hence, manufacturers of technology products will have to change their products' voltage and current capacities to match the phases, cycles, and voltages of their target markets. For developing markets, they may even have to add features to ensure the products are not damaged during surges and power outages.

Manufacturers of technical equipment, on their part, may need to redesign the measurements on their products and manuals to meet local standards. For example, the United States is one of the few countries that use a nonmetric measurement system.

Installation is another factor relating to product usage. How easy is it for foreign users to install the product? Does the exporter have local technicians in these regions to help in assembly, or will it be better to pre-assemble the product in the United States before export?

Repairs are another issue. Does the company have service centers if a user needs repair in the regions? If not, will it be better to include basic spare parts in the original products, so users don't have to import additional parts when their products need repair?

Cultural preferences in certain markets will also require manufacturers to alter their products. For instance, some countries associate certain colors with death; hence manufacturers should avoid them. In other countries like Japan, animated characters are popular hence manufacturers may change their design and packaging to attract local users.

Shipping is the final factor to consider. How easy is it to ship a product in its current design? Will a different design be less costly to ship? Will a different style of packaging prevent damage to the product in transit?

Given how many things manufacturers must consider before exporting their products, management teams must perform extensive research before selecting a target market. Ideally, they should start with one that will not require them to make extensive adjustments to their products. They could even choose to develop a uniform product acceptable in most countries in a region.