Guam producers seeking to navigate the global market
By Frank Whitman
As part of efforts to grow and diversify the Guam economy, on Sept. 14 the Guam Economic Development Authority hosted a free, virtual conference on exporting.
About 75 people took part in the four-hour conference, titled “Taking the Leap Beyond Guam: Exporting for Businesses.”
“The purpose of the event is to provide local small businesses and entrepreneurs with the necessary tools and strategies to export to international markets in the current economic climate,” said Melanie Mendiola, administrator and CEO of GEDA.
The first conference session featured five participants in the Guam Product Seal program, all selling products – ranging from hair scrunchies, coconut oil products and handmade jewelry to craft beer and high-tech drone services - with the Made in Guam seal, which certifies the product is manufactured on the island.
“This (seal program) helped me tremendously with my online sales,” said Azia Sayama-Davis, owner of Hunny Threads, “especially because I receive online orders from locals who reside in the mainland, or who are stationed in Europe.”
Hunny Threads sells handmade hair scrunchies, bows, headbands, lanyards and key chains.
Displaying the seal also boosts sales among those looking for authentic Guam souvenirs or keepsakes, participants said.
“The Guam Product Seal has really helped my business, especially with the tourists,” said Libby Quichocho, owner of Love by Libby, which sells homemade jewelry. “I put the logo out by my pop-up shop and when tourists come they point at the seal. I feel like that Guam Product Seal has attracted a lot of customers, especially tourists.”
The session, “From Local to Global,” featured businesses that have, or are in the process of, expanding their reach to overseas markets, the challenges they have encountered and solutions they have come up with.
Joy Santos, sales manager of Kingfisher’s Noni, based in Saipan and Guam since 2003, spoke about her efforts to fill a demand in Korea for the company’s noni fruit products. Lessons learned include the need for eco-friendly packaging - which the company had not been using - tariffs and other taxes and regulations about acceptable ingredients.
“Even using the best quality ingredients and all-natural substances … there are extra steps we have to go through to be able to export our product there,” she said.
She recently found out that Guam and Saipan are not included in the Korea Free Trade Agreement. “That’s a big challenge for us,” she said.
Brian Goo, chief tea officer of Tea Chest Hawaii, has been exporting tea since 2011. He recommended conference participants make use of government and other nonprofit sources to learn about the ins and outs of exporting.
Goo started his export education with a six-week course offered by the U.S. Department of Commerce titled “Export University.”
“I created out of that class what I call my export bible,” he said. “It was all about what our codes are, how to label our products, and so on.”
Goo also recommends entrepreneurs join nonprofit organizations including Rotary Clubs and similar groups “because it’s great networking and it’s an opportunity to get a better lay of the land and get connections that are usable.”
Also taking part in the conference was Wade Byram, director of development and engagement for the Western United States Agriculture Trade Association, an independent nonprofit organization funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, member states and participating companies.
WUSATA services include export education for those who need help with exporting.
“The organization has a fund match program and can assist with participation in inbound and outbound trade missions and can help connect with buyers and inbound trade leads," Byram said.
Goo noted that he is a WUSATA member and has gotten sales leads through the organization.
The group also discussed the value of trade missions and shows.
Lenny Fejeran, owner of several food and beverage outlets in Guam, also manufactures Denanche’ hot sauce. He is developing a plan for selling Denanche’ off-island. He recently returned from a trade mission to Palau and a trade show in Las Vegas.
Fejeran’s biggest challenge currently is the limited supply of ingredients - which he sources from local farmers - due to Typhoon Mawar.
He is “trying to balance how much we can actually commit to with whoever our distributor might be."
Panel members spoke of the importance of trade shows and persistence. Fejeran said feedback from show attendees has helped him with product development.
Returning to trade shows indicates stability to potential vendors.
“Showing up consistently year over year to an event really, really helps,” Goo said.
The first time, attendees might just take a card and other basic information.
“But if they’re serious about your product they’re going to come back and look for you.”
Charlie Hermosa, CEO of Bella Wings Aviation, told the group that in addition to drone shows and similar services his company is planning drone manufacturing.
“There are actually some environmental qualities that don’t really play well with the drones that are off the shelf,” he said.
In order to perform well locally, drones need to be waterproof and otherwise able to withstand the heat, humidity and other features of the local environment.
Hermosa said training is the key to the development of a workforce capable of the high-tech work his company will require. He is confident the workforce can be developed.
Panel members for the session “Show Me the Money: How to Fund Your Business” described a number of funding programs available for small business entrepreneurs. These included government programs administered by GEDA, which recently received $58 million from the federal government under the State Small Business Credit Initiative.
The SSBCI funds are to be used to support small businesses and create quality jobs, according to Tina Garcia, public finance manager at GEDA.
GEDA plans to use the money for expanded basic loans, loan guarantees, collateral support and venture capital programs.