Larry Brill: The Expert on Export
November 25, 2011,
COLUMBIA, MD. - For much of the past four decades whenever anyone in the home textiles industry needed help exporting, they turned to the export expert: Larry Brill.
In his role at the Department of Commerce's textiles and apparel office, Brill logged millions of air miles and helped generate tens of millions of dollars of business for American companies looking to do business overseas.
This month, Brill hung up his government shingle and retired from the Commerce Department. Not to worry, he has immediately gone into business for himself, opening up Export Trade Consultants, a company based here that will continue to aid U.S. suppliers interested in creating or expanding business in Europe, Asia and around the world.
"Even though the economy is troubled, this is the time for U.S. companies to begin planning and looking at export," Brill told HTT from his new offices, only a few weeks after retiring from more than 35 years of government service. "Currency rates are still perfect for U.S. exports.
"And people should be looking not just at China, but places like India, Singapore, Hong Kong and even Japan. There are still plenty of opportunities out there."
Brill, whose last title was senior international trade specialist, should know. He joined Commerce as an intern after graduating from Syracuse University, electing to go to Washington when his girlfriend - now his wife - Rita was studying at the University of Maryland. With a degree in business administration - he subsequently got his law degree too - government wasn't necessarily his first choice, but it seems to have worked out.
In the mid-1970s, he was chosen to help create the department's first sector-specific export program, for textiles and apparel. He rose to become director of the program, maintaining that position through 2007, when a downsizing eliminated the title.
As a key member of the program he spearheaded the department-sponsored pavilion at the annual Heimtextil fair in Germany, as well as trade missions around the world.
"I think my biggest accomplishment in home textiles was the partner-country program we did at Heimtextil in 2003," Brill said. That featured the largest American representation at the fair ever.
His trade missions to China - the first for the department - as well as to other regions like South America "opened up whole new markets for American companies. It put them on the map, and many of them are still there."
Brill estimates he logged more than a million miles in the air working the department.
Heimtextil has changed over the past few years, and American exhibitors are a far less common sight at the show, which has increasingly turned to Asian companies.
"Some of these changes are inevitable as the nature of the industry changed," he said, ‘but it's still a good show for start-up companies" whose executives can see many people in a concentrated time and place rather than traveling around the world.
Brill says many American companies have made a classic mistake of not giving the export market enough time. "I know it's expensive to show, but many companies should have stayed longer. It's more cost effective, and I'm still a big believer in trade shows.
"You just need patience and commitment. If you don't have that, you won't make it. And once you leave, it's even harder to try and come back. I think you need a minimum of three years."
Brill said American companies that try to base their international export strategies around price alone are making a huge mistake. "You can't compete just on price, you can't just sell a commodity. Americans need to sell their premium products, not what they sell to discounters here. Asians, particularly the Chinese, are all about brands, and American companies need to build their brands there."
Brill's new venture already has a few clients signed up, but he is open to work with anyone in the business who wants to expand exporting. The website for the company is not quite live yet, but Brill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, he's hoping to do some pro bono legal work and maybe even some travel - but strictly for pleasure, not to trade shows.
Brill may have retired from the federal government but his passion for helping to promote American companies overseas remains as strong as ever
1. Plan on a five-year model for developing your export business. In the first year, you will lose money, break even in the second and third years and start to make a profit by the fourth and fifth years. Anything short of that and you are wasting your money...and your time.
2. Use your better products in export. American companies cannot compete on price in the world market, so they should be trying to sell premium products and brands.
3. You must have a local partner on the ground in the country you are trying to sell to. It can be an agent, a joint-venture company or anyone who truly understands local business.
4. China is a huge, attractive market, but you should also consider other Asian countries like India, Singapore and even Japan.
5. This is the time to begin planning your overseas business strategy.