The Manufacturing Executive
The Manufacturing Executive

Episode · 1 year ago

Expanding Into International Markets w/ Ashley Madray


I asked listeners what topic they wanted to learn more about on the podcast. 

You said "expanding into international markets."

So I put the word out among my network and discovered today's guest. He founded a gas company in 2002 that now does business in many foreign countries.

My guest on this episode is Ashley Madray, executive vice president of Gas Innovations, a producer, purifier, and packager of specialty gases.

Ashley and I discussed:

  1. Who he is, how his company began, and how it expanded internationally
  2. Common challenges to international expansion
  3. The impact of doing business globally

To ensure that you never miss an episode of The Manufacturing Show, subscribe on Apple Podcasts, or Spotify, or here.

... an Aha moment and most don't realize that is not as difficult as maybe they all first thought. Welcome to the manufacturing executive podcast, where we explore the strategies and experiences that are driving mid size manufacturers forward. Here you'll discover new insights from passionate manufacturing leaders who have compelling stories to share about their successes and struggles, and you'll learn from B tob sales and marketing experts about how to apply actionable business development strategies inside your business. Let's get into the show. Welcome to another episode of the Manufacturing Executive podcast. This show is being brought to you by our sponsor, codinus part solutions. I'm Joe Sullivan, your host and a CO founder of the Industrial Marketing Agency guerrilla seventy six. There's some things about running or managing a business that sound plain and timidating until you just get your hands dirty and start doing it, and one of those things is expanding your business into international markets. All of a sudden you're faced with new challenges that you haven't necessarily dealt with before, from language barriers and time zone differences to international logistics and dealing with customs. Well, my guests today is someone who's been through all of that and is still standing to tell his stories. So let me take a moment to welcome Ashley Madre to the show today. Ashley is the principle and executive vice president of gas innovations, a producer, purifier and packager of specialty gases based in Houston, Texas. Ashley has over forty years of experience in industrial, specialty and hydrocarbon gas businesses. He began his career in nineteen eighty one as an industrial gas sales representative with the Lindy Division of Union Carbide Corporation, which is now pracs are. In nineteen ninety, Ashley participated in the management buy out of the Lindy UCC subsidiary. He became vice president and sales manager, directing acquisitions, managing sales, branches and operations for the company and growing it into a forty two location business. In the early s Ashley traded hydrocarbons for Duke Energy, procuring hydrocarbons from producers and marketing to commercial users and other trading entities. Then in two thousand and two, alongside Jason Willingham Ashley Co founded gas innovations and several related companies. Gas Innovations is now a multinational company serving the industrial gas, oil and gas and petrochemical and related industries. Ashley, welcome to the show. Well, thank you. Nice to nice to be here, and thank you, Ram absolutely well. Actually, one thing I try to do here with this podcast is ask listeners what topics they want to hear about, and a few people have recently brought up this idea of her having a guest on here of that that can speak to expanding their business outside the US, getting into international business, and so I kind of, you know, dug around through my network a little bit, and that's what blood be to you, and so what I was hoping you could kind of start out here by giving our listeners a little bit more background about what exactly you do and how you landed where you are today. Well, thank you. We package gases. That's the simple version of what we do, and those gases are typically hydrocarbons. There are few that are not, but the hydrocarbon a family. We package, we purify, we enhance their servistability and we ship them anywhere people want to have them. Domestically and abroad. We shipp in rail cars, we ship and disposable not out cylinders and everything in between. In terms of how we got here, I finished school a long time ago and join unique carback corporation...

...and have probably been in every petrochemical plant between Brown's Bull and mobile in my life and learn the industry there and grew up in industrial gas and through a series of events wind up starting Mon Company here with a part with a couple of partners in two thousand and two gas in Novations and we've been very fortunate grown it to almost a hundred people and now we serve most of the states and many of the foreign countries from around the world with those products. So, Ashley, you guys started out doing business domestically and then moved into international markets somewhere along the way. Yes, we had always flirted with supplying a little bit of product to Mexico where in Texas it makes sense that border crossing from Texas to Mexico it's fairly fairly simple. So we've done that and we purchased product down there. But we really got started I went to a networking breakfast sponsored by a group of attorneys, bankers and service providers for the middle market companies that they survived supplied. And the feature speaker was an old Federal Reserve Guy who was serving at the University of Houston and economics capacity as chair of the Economics Department, and he made a speech that really resonated with us. It was almost like treating me like a little schoolboy and getting on to me for not paying attention to the export market. And he explained to us how the rest of the world craved many of the Western ways, whether it was western technologies or Western ideas, but also the ways of doing business. And in Texas, and in Houston particularly, we have the Halliburtons of the world and we have exon and Shell and all those big guys. And and he chastise for believe, for us believing that those were the only people that they were interested in. He said they're interested in you as well, you middle market companies, and it really awakened us and so I came back to my office and I gathered our team and I said, listen, I've just been taken to the woodshed Dr Gilbert, Doctor Bill Gilmer, and we have got to pay attention to the export market and we're going to start and, come hell or high water, we're going to supply in a much broader fashion and a much more successful fashion than we ever have the export markets. And so we started. I'm a big networker. I believe that we ought to go to meetings and we ought to network, and you don't know somebody, you need to find out who it is and you need to know about him, you need to ask, and so we encouraged our team to do that, and I've got a great team, we've got a great thing. So the next thing I know, I've got maps of each continent all over our conference room. So they heard the message right, and so we started identifying our customers that we serve domestically. We began to ask each one of them where they had offices abroad and who the contacts were, and we started there and it was amazing how that came to us. Then we started saying that we exported, and so now people start looking for us and they look for us on our website. And simultaneously with all that, we spent a great deal of time making our website what it ought to be, and not that we're there yet, I certainly don't mean that, but that we're way better off than we were when we when we starred it, and we continue to try to keep it fresh, continue to try to keep it useful and with appropriate information on there that is useful, that is searchable and findable by the world community, not just domestically. So so we have put things on there...

...and international languages, so of course Spanish. We've done some work with Korea and so we play some Korean language data on there and and others. It's so I think when you start that, you send the message to your team that we're going to do it and they you know, I didn't tell them to go get maps. They did that. I did tell them to put on the website that we're going to export. They did that and it began to grow. And as it grew, then we delve deeper and began to make calls, and then we began to travel internationally and are traveling internationally. Really was maybe as good for our own people as it was for our potential customers and clients, because then our people saw that we absolutely were committed. There's flying people around the world. We've never done that before and we didn't, I don't want to say we were extravagant but we did it right. We went to the proper meetings and conferences. We set up meetings ahead of time. I think the team liked it and so they they never wanted to blow it. They wanted to make sure they could go back. We let most of them take their wives when we went on those kind of international trips as a perk, and so it just it began to grow. Since that time we've continued that emphasis. I bumped into a young man who asked me about work and he is a Korean of Korean descent and he was at the University of Texas and wasn't sure about the next level of activity and he wanted to graduate school. So he spend a little time as an intern and he spoke three or four languages and so he would make calls on our behalf late at night. He would participate in phone calls and help with the language barrier. But you know what I would tell your audience is the language barrier is conceived in our heads. Worldwide most people use the English language. We're sort of lazy here. We don't do as much alternative languages to English, but most of the world does, and so don't let that be a hurdle or any kind of impediment to your thinking in terms of doing export work. Again, as we begin to pursue this, we got offered opportunities to go to additional meetings. We are part of the Greater Houston Partnership Organization, Great Organization, and they have monthly meetings that we typically I attend, sometimes others in our organization, and when they have export oriented presentations, while we certainly participate in those, and we got to meet the Department of Commerce, people from the United States Department of I've gotten the opportunity to meet in the president of the World Bank, opportunes to meet many people related to this. I believe it or not, the state of Texas has an export support organization and they're more than happy to help you with that regard. So there are tons of resources. We continue to find out about them. In some cases they're more resources than we can even use. That you're shut many and you can find out about them. You know, if I guess, if you're in a small town and maybe rural area, it may be a little bit more difficult, but I would challenge you to, through your network and through your banks or your insurance or legal organizations that people can help you and the help identify this about, identify this opportunity. So we've continued to do that. We've tried to add to our repertoire of services and products and even expand to those that are demanded internationally that might not be demanded domestic. So we have it's just about now accepted around here that we're going to export and it's going to... as as basic to our business is our domestic business. It's great. You hit on a ton of really good stuff there. You know, when you mentioned that, that breakfast or that event you had where the we had the speaker from the Federal Reserve, that it seemed to be kind of your trigger made it made you say, oh Jeez, we're missing something here. We got to open our eyes to what's in front of us. How long did it take from the moment, from that moment, until you guys really set this in motion? Because I love that. You just said you saw an opportunity and you just went for it and you kind of laid out the steps you went through there, which is, you know, I love it. It's easy. You lean down your existing customers and then you made a positioning decision through the language. You're outward facing, positioning to the worlds that we export. Right. It's as simple as that. I think this is what we do and for who? But how long did it take to kind of get some of that in motion? I mean in surprised me. Our team jumped on it immediately. But to see really signs of success, I would say within within months we saw some success, within a year we saw we definite success. But our team has always had an appetite for new and different. Our Name being guessed innovation. We want to be new and difference. We want to pursue those those opportunities and in that business that maybe the rest of the our competitors of the world are not as interested in. It's typically faster growing and it typically provides a little better margin for us then the tried and true old hat Martin's. So really had no problem getting our team on board. If we had an issue on on within our team, it would have been about how we're going to get paid. Our CFO, who's outstanding, said Ashly, now, how are we going to get paid? And so I remember we were doing a big job for Korea and he said so we found this international banking consultant. All of this is happened during this time. We start asking questions and talk about export and you know, Banker said you should meet this guy. So we meet this international banking consultant is so he'll help us with writing letters of credit. He explained to us that difference been a letter of credit to bank guarantee. I didn't know the difference. We learned that and in much of the world a bank guarantee is used, where in the US we use letters of credit. So they there's a built in obstacle between the rest of the rule and us. They use guarantees. We use letters from credit. But we began to understand how to navigate that and how to use a letter of credit with the sister bank in an outside country for a bank guarantee, to issue a bank guarantee to customers. Just a million of that kind of activity. So where was a joke? So we I'm convincing my CFO that hey, we're going to be okay. So you know you don't always get prepaid on an export ship. There are people who've never been in the export business that thinks, think that's the way it is and it's not. You've got to be sophisticated enough to know that you're going to get paid or you need to pare to be paid one of the other. So I asked the international main consulted one of his assistants who had a lot of experience Carey. I said, listen, we can do this big job of Korea and we're worried about getting paid. And she said you have absolutely no worry about getting paid from Korean businesses. And I'm like, wow, how do you know that? You know I'm how could I trust you that? She said I've done business there for years and she said...

...if it were to go bad, you just go to the consulate and say you're my documents, we made good and they will get you paid. She gave me every confidence in the world. Well, CEE IFO had already knew that team. So I said in this sally says we have no worry if we're in Korea. Pieces. Sally said that Iah you's so okay. So now we're okay. So that's how it involved and we worked with them and ahead just fantastic business. We're going to take a really quick break here to help pay the bills. So two thousand and twenty has been a weird year. Industries are facing new challenges as we navigate life without trade shows, events and in person meetings. Many businesses are bolstering their online tools to offer a better experience. Will also making up for some of those missing trade show leads, and that's where a cademist part solutions comes in. They help you create a dynamic, sharable cad catalog that you put on your website. Designers can preview your products from any angle and download and the format that they prefer. By improving the online experience, engineers and architects get the data they need for their design and you get a fresh lead in your marketing pipeline. Who Needs Trade shows anyway? To learn more, visit part solutionscom leads. Well, Ashley, you talked about, you know, a couple challenges. You know, for well, maybe the language bear isn't such a such a big challenge and, as you mentioned, your time zone difference. As a thinking of like, what are the things that are probably running through someone's hat as they listened to this episode and think, well, what about this and what about this? You are there other challenges you you had to sort of figure out along the way and deal with related to say, logistics or customs or anything else. What are what are some of the things people need to be thinking about? And they you've encountered well, so those are those are really good things that I may have lost over. You need somebody to help you with customs unless you know it well, and we did. So we have a customs broken that helps us in their very experience. This guy's and Englishman that owns his company and he was a seafarer, so he knows shipping and all that sort of thing and his company is well version our product line, and so they've helped us a lot. But we've used others as well. We had a situation where we were shipping something to a landlock Asian country, so we had to ship it. We all boarded it, we railed it, we then trucked it to the final destination, and this is in not a not a US favored location of the world. Were selling it to another country who was putting it in this ill favorite place, and I was amazed at how well we could get that done. We asked some of our shipping partners, Hey, who's got the best relationship here, and they all said this guy, and so we used him and it was unbelievable. We put basically twenty foot cargo containers on a ship and they took it to a port and put it on rail and took it to another location to put it on trucks and trucked it to this inland location and I think we paid, you know, on a several billion dollars deal, we pay seventeenzero dollars of damages on the that's all. It's just main thanks to made a lot of my made everybody happy, customers happy, we got a hat plus, but it's because we networked and we went to some ex birds on how to get the credit done and how to get the shipping and customs transportation done. So it seems... be a recurring theme here that you know, you need to surround yourself with a lot of really smart people who are experts in various elements of doing business internationally and really just out of ask a lot of questions, lean on your network. I mean, this is it's kind of on one stuff, but if you're if you're surrounded by good people and you just kind of put yourself out there and put in, put in the work to you to build that network. Sounds like that's the way to go on. It is not unlike the audience. And in their businesses there is good as what they is, anybody of what they do, but when they step out of that area they need expertise, whether it's in banking or legal assistance or insurance, you know, or maybe it's shipping or maybe it's customs. But yeah, you need you need to have somebody that could get you out of a jam if there's a jam, because there can be. I mean we've had some those, some real scary things where we had a nonspisticated customer send product back to US incorrectly labeled, and that's a big no no. In the ports particularly things are flammable, and so you know, we we had to say, guys, if that happens again, you know you're going to pay. There the knows, because the risk is just too much. So we learned that. We learned about all the incode terms. You know, incode terms are terms that are used consistently in the international trade for shipping terms and shipping responsibilities. So we've learned all that. We keep those posting on on our website and well, maybe not our website, but we keep them posted with all of our people. They all they all know, but you definitely need to have some expertise. I don't think we should all be counted on to know the rules and regulations of a ship or an offload into port of Busan, Korea. We're just not going to know that. So actually, what's been what's been the impact of making this decision to start doing business internationally been on your own business? Well, it's been very positive. Our business has grown, we've identify new markets and new opportunities and and I think will continue to grow, maybe faster than we would have without them. So the impact of very positive. It's also been encouraging for our team. They've enjoyed it and they feel good about it. It's like a new success. So there's been. There been multiple, multiple benefits to doing this. Good to hear. What did vice would you give any manufacturing leaders who are listening right now who, like you, did somewhere along the way there, who see an international opportunity, but they're they're feeling maybe a little intimidated, but they also don't want to waste any time. You know, where should they start? I just start with WHO I know. I start my network and asking those people who may know. Would you can also ask your government officials if they have anything, because they so want to shift product outside of our country federally and on a statewide basis, that they encourage and want to support that. There may be free programs to help you that. The State of Texas and the Department of Commerce have free programs for sure. I don't know about the other states where other people might be, but there are are people that want to help get products exporting from our country. They want to improve the Labor rate here, improve unemployment, improve employment that. They want to do all of those things. So there's a there's a world of help and you're not on your own, auctor, no, you really aren't. Really and read about it, I mean I think you know I'm challenging our guys to read. So we follow all the periodicles for our industry and and for industry related to... So you know whether it's satellite industry or whether it's the electronics industry. You know food processing industry, pharmaceutical industry, all these intern were following in. So we're looking for those export opportunities because they may have a hard time getting things. Well, Ashley, is there anything I didn't ask you that I should have or that you'd like to add to this conversation. I think potentially it could be much easier than people think it is. When I talk about export with most people, they they help sort of have an Aha moment and most don't realize that it is not as difficult as maybe they all first thought. You know, many people think, well, you guys, how many people speak Koreature? So well, nobody. We did have an intern for a while. How many people speak, you know, Portuguese or German, Russian, Japanese or you know whatever, and I said, well, you know, not, not really. We have a few that speak a few different languages, but not not much. Well, don't you need that? No, you don't need that. I mean we've translated letters using the Internet. We use simple for simple words and not euphemisms. are phrases. You can I'm not sure you can use how y'all doing and get by with that in a translation for Japanese, but there are many tools on the Internet to help you get that. So I would I would encourage people to be open minded and commerce is alive and well across the world, not just here, and people are just like Americans, they want to sell more, want to improve their standard delimit for their families and they and they like being successful. They don't always work as many hours as we do in many parts of the world and other parts of the world they work more, but I say the hardest step would be the first one. Or there just get started. So around. That's right, that's right. Well, Ashley, this is a great conversation today. It really appreciate you taking the time to do this. Can you tell our audience how they can get in touch with you and where they can learn more about gas innovations? Sure, we're a gas INNOVATIONSCOM on and you can call us anytime. My cell phone numbers on that website. You can call that. My emails on that website, as are all of our eighty eight employees. We are available and we want to be responsive and if I can help anybody, I'd love to do that. I appreciate you having me be a part of this. It's intriguing to me, it's interesting and it's responsible. How's that? So I think it's great, good way to put a bow on it. Yeah, well, actually really appreciate you once again for for joining here and I'd like to say thank you once again to our sponsor, Kadena's part solutions, for helping make this episode possible. So, Ashley, I guess for now that'll do it. Thanks for thanks for joining. Thank you, Mam as. For the rest of you, I hope to catch you on the next episode of the Manufacturing Executive. You've been listening to the manufacturing executive podcast. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you'd like to learn more about industrial marketing and sales strategy, you'll find an ever expanding collection of articles, videos, guides and tools specifically for bedb manufacturers at Gorilla Seventy sixcom learn thank you so much for listening. Until next time.

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