When the construction industry experienced an extended period of softness stemming from the overall downturn in the U.S. economy, The Wagner Companies began taking a serious look at boosting its exporting activity.

fiberlaserThe company faced “downward pressure in the domestic market,” prompting a closer look at exporting opportunities, said Roxanne Baumann, director of global engagement for the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

The Wagner Companies operates a plant on Milwaukee’s northwest side, which primarily manufactures handrail components and systems.

“My great great-grandfather was a metal worker, my grandfather was a metal worker and my father was a metal worker. I guess rust is in my blood,” said Robert Wagner, chief executive officer of The Wagner Companies.

In an effort to develop a more defined exporting strategy, Wagner became part of the first class of ExporTech™, a program offered by the WMEP.

guyandmachinePrior to its participation in ExporTech, Wagner’s exporting activity primarily focused on Canada and England. Now, the company is shipping products to countries like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

“We never thought they’d be viable for us,” said Richard Kettler, Wagner president. “The big deal is to go and engage the global marketplace.”

ExporTech™ consists of three intense sessions scheduled one month apart. Coaching and assistance are provided between the sessions.

Wisconsin companies with exporting strategies in place have been taking advantage of the explosive growth seen in other parts of the world. Today, 95 percent of consumers are outside the United States and small to midsize Wisconsin manufacturers are profiting, or have the ability to profit, from this global phenomenon.

millingmachineSuccessful companies are tapping into new markets with a customized exporting strategy, a benefit derived from participation in the ExporTech program, in which the WMEP first became involved in 2009. Companies will target two or three countries that have the greatest revenue potential and least risk when it comes to implementing or expanding an exporting strategy.

ExporTech brings together as many as eight non-competing firms to create an exporting strategy.

“They become a set of resources to each other,” Baumann said.

Graduates of ExporTech have achieved sales increases averaging $900,000 within six to nine months after completing the program and developing a customized, action-oriented expansion strategy.

ringThe Wagner Companies has been on an exporting journey over the past four years that has generated increased revenue for the business as a result of expanding its overseas markets, Baumann said.

“We’re very proud of what they’ve done and very excited to see where they are going,” she said.

The expanding global strategy involves more than the top-level executives at Wagner Cos., Baumann said.

“Really driving the strategy down is part of the fabric of the company,” she said. “When you do that it’s not just the CEO’s pet project. It becomes something everyone in the company is trying to look forward to.”

polishingThe growing middle class in countries around the world has created a viable business opportunity for The Wagner Companies and other manufacturers, Kettler said.

“The middle class in the rest of the world has developed tremendously over the last 20 years,” he said. “There’s way more out there than there is here. The opportunity to serve new markets is phenomenal.”

As a Result of the ExporTech Program, R&B Wagner has:

  • Increased export sales 40% on average over each of the last three years
  • Increased countries serviced from 2 to 16
  • Created a global market awareness and worldwide contacts
  • Been specified by architects for construction projects across the globe
  • Developed product engineering improvements based on serving overseas markets and conditions
  • Improved logistics and government policy awareness and compliance throughout the company

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