Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Re-Learning Old Lessons in a New Place — Santiago, Chile

Posted by Michael Taylor, SPI Senior Director, International Affairs & Trade

SPI’s first trade mission of 2013 was July 24-26 in Santiago, Chile. This was not my first trade mission, but it was my first time in Santiago. On paper, Chile appeared to be a promising plastics market opportunity, but it’s impossible to know for certain without exploring it firsthand.

SPI’s Michael Taylor spoke during the Gala Dinner held prior to the opening of Fullplast 2013.

That gives us lesson number one that was re-learned in Santiago — You must go and see for yourself. Do not just hire a consultant or a local representative to provide you with market information and guidance. Senior people in your company must see and experience the market and the culture directly. This is a comparatively small short-term investment with big long-term gains. Lesson number one leads to lesson numbers two and three, also re-taught in Santiago.

Number two — Exploring a new market and developing a solid market entry strategy, even for a comparatively small market, takes time. Probably more time than you think, especially if you have little or no experience with this aspect of global business.

Number three — You can never spend too much time learning the culture and cultivating relationships. Of course, you can learn about something without experiencing it, but if you want to really understand it and if you want to work with or manage people from a different cultural environment, you need to acquire some level of true understanding of that culture. And if you want to conduct business effectively anywhere outside the United States, you need to know that relationships always come before proposals, ROIs and contracts.

Fullplast 2013, the Chilean plastics trade show, opened during the SPI trade mission in Santiago.

Fullplast 2013, the Chilean plastics trade show, opened during the SPI trade mission in Santiago.

Chile being a comparatively small market means two additional things should be kept in mind. In Chile, the number of people you need to know, or will come into contact with while doing business, is fairly small, and they communicate with one another as well. This only serves to magnify the importance of relationships and their proper cultivation, along with the need to be clear and forthright in all your business dealings as contacts can easily compare notes.

The size of the Chilean market allowed our trade mission participants to meet and interview all possible sales representative candidates in the course of just three days in country — an opportunity not present in every case.

In our country briefings about Chile, we learned multiple answers to the big question: Why do business there?

  • Trade Agreements: 58+
  • Steady, positive growth
  • Prudent fiscal policies
  • Stable democratic government
  • Solid business practices
  • Rule of law
  • Low corruption
Following a country briefing at the American Embassy in Santiago, SPI’s Michael Taylor is flanked by (l) Stephen C. Montalto of Parkinson Technologies and Jan van Bakergem of NFM Welding Engineers.

Following a country briefing at the American Embassy in Santiago, SPI’s Michael Taylor is flanked by (l) Stephen C. Montalto of Parkinson Technologies and Jan van Bakergem of NFM Welding Engineers.

During a cocktail reception before the gala dinner of Fullplast 2013, the Chilean plastics trade show, we learned that Chilean society is very ethnically homogenous and patriotic, yet class differences exist. For example, it is important to understand that each class identifies with a particular professional Chilean soccer team.

We also learned how one of the most important holidays in Chile — Día de las Glorias Navales on May 21 — is important in understanding the reflective, pragmatic side of Chilean culture. This holiday celebrates the Battle of Iquique, which occurred in 1879 during the naval stage of the War of the Pacific, a conflict between Chile and Peru and Bolivia.

The battle took place off the then-Peruvian port of Iquique. The Peruvian ironclad Huáscar, commanded by Miguel Grau Seminario, sank the Esmeralda, a Chilean wooden corvette captained by Arturo Prat Chacón, after four hours of combat. So instead of celebrating an important victory, the Chileans celebrate an important defeat as a turning point.

SPI’s next trade mission will go to Panama City, Panama, August 12-14. Join us to learn about that country’s plastics market and see the opportunities there for yourself — the only way to really understand.

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