Interview with Chris Leggett
Program Manager, Central Florida International Trade Office
Describe your ideal client.
One of CFITO’s key niches is helping companies who are “pre-export-ready.” I help businesses at any stage of export-readiness.
A big part of what I do is to extend access to federal and state resource partners to support their efforts to grow and manage risk through exports. One aspect I find personally rewarding is assisting companies not yet deemed export-ready. Often, they cannot access vital resources; thus, they are unsure if exporting will work for their business. In my role at CFITO, I don’t provide all the answers since only a business-owner who knows their risk tolerance can do that. Instead, I ask my clients the questions they should consider before proceeding with exporting. In this process, I also connect them to resources that they either don’t have access to or could not find independently. Sometimes clients decide exporting is not for them, and that’s okay. It is still a successful outcome because the business has made an informed decision not to export rather than rushing into exporting only to find out the hard and expensive way that exporting is not a good fit. In the end, we’ve avoided a negative experience, and we’ve prevented sharing a potentially crippling story.
When companies are ready to export, I help them take advantage of the many resources contributing to a successful experience. One of the best resources we have is the Central North Florida District Export Council, with over 35 experts ready to help mentor businesses in virtually any aspect of exporting.
Do you have favorite export markets?
The best market for a company depends on several factors unique to the business. To help find an ideal market, the local Florida SBDC office has trade experts who develop customized Export Marketing Plans. A grant from Enterprise Florida can help defray the cost of the plan.
I recommend Canada and Mexico as starting points for exporters. Both have benefited from duty-free access to American goods for over 27 years with integrated economies. The two countries produce goods together, with products crossing the border several times before being sold in North America. As a result, Canada and Mexico generally have standards and regulations similar to the U.S., making selling in these markets easier. When selling into a market, many companies focus just on the duty they will have to pay. Frequently, it is the non-tariff barriers that present a more significant obstacle.
Additionally, transportation to market is generally straightforward – a company will have more options, as they can ship to Canada and Mexico by air and sea and by rail or truck. And consumers in these countries view “Made in the USA” as a mark of quality. Finally, their business cultures are relatively similar, and most businesspeople speak English, which expedites contract negotiations. While they might not be the top markets for every product, they always will be good ones for a company to get its feet wet in as they embark on their exporting journey!
Describe a big export challenge and how you solved it.
Since CFITO is a service provider connecting businesses to opportunities in the global marketplace, one of the biggest mistakes we see is a company exporting without sufficient research of their target customer. Corollary to the lack of research is the idea of customers worldwide being similar to American consumers in spending habits and trends. Most companies selling in the U.S. will have a good idea of who their customer is, but they don’t consider the difference in marketing in other countries. At CFITO, we offer workshops highlighting those differences by using a presenter who educates the attendees on the country’s business culture. It is a significant advantage to enter a foreign market armed with a knowledge of how they do business by extending the courtesy of trying to do things their way (or avoid mistakes that will cost you the sale). These details will help turn a deal into a relationship. Cultural awareness will go a long way.
What do you enjoy about your work and employer?
CFITO is part of the National Entrepreneur Center (NEC), and I enjoy being part of an ecosystem built to help entrepreneurs. We have resources to help entrepreneurs at any stage of their business, under one roof. I know that I would never have as many clients if CFITO were working on its own! We can leverage our resources and access facilities enabling me to offer better outreach programs for the business community.
What I like best is problem-solving! Before joining CFITO in 2017, I worked as a diplomat on trade in agricultural and food products (most recently at Canada’s Mission to the European Union in Brussels). One of the reasons I left that career is because working abroad allowed me to interact with people directly and help solve their market access challenges. I did not want to go back to being effectively an analyst sitting at a desk, so I made a career change that would allow me to help companies daily. And I was fortunate that Jerry Ross – a previous DEC Chair and CEO of the NEC – allowed me to do that at CFITO!
Do you have favorite countries?
As an American by choice, the USA – and the freedoms and diverse cultures we enjoy here – tops my list. For travel, I enjoy Italy, particularly the Cinque Terre. New Zealand is a beautiful country everyone should experience. My “dream vacation” is a safari in Kenya or Tanzania.