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Small Oregon businesses go global

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Articles - June 2011
Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Oregon Exports, 2001-2011

The value of Oregon exports have doubled over the past decade. The state's largest category of exports is electronic and computer products, mostly from Intel, and the largest trade partner is China.
Partnering with a larger, more experienced firm makes sense because breaking into foreign markets is no simple task for a small Oregon company. But it can be done — even in China. Benchmade already sells its upscale knives into Russia, and the company is doing very well in China, says Rob Morrison, director of marketing. China baffles many local exporters due to various trade barriers and deep cultural differences. But Morrison says he’s found that the “Made in the USA” label carries surprising cachet in China as incomes there rise: “Our best selling products in China are our most expensive products.”

Morrison says Benchmade spends a lot of time researching and building relationships with local partners in China and Russia, interviewing candidates in person and talking to retailers and dealers to make sure “the credibility checks out.”

Benchmade has learned firsthand that selling internationally brings risk, especially if your brand name is well known. “We’ve seen counterfeit product in Hong Kong and China and also coming from foreign countries into the U.S.,” says Morrison.

“Fortunately we do a good business with U.S. Customs and they know us. If they see a container full of knives made in a foreign country labeled Benchmade, they know it’s a counterfeit.”

For now, the opportunities overseas are outweighing the risks. Benchmade’s long relationship with U.S. Special Forces has brought military contracts with France, Australia and Greece, and Morrison says international sales are growing by double digits each year. The 180-employee company makes all of its knives in Oregon City, where it recently knocked down a wall to expand its manufacturing space by 20,000 square feet.



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