Bringing Homegrown Harmony Worldwide
Since 1989, Harmony Enterprises has worked to grow its business in markets around the globe.
BY STEVE CREMER
Steve Cremer, President of Harmony Enterprises
Historically, our company's roots roots are about as local as they come. In 1962, a group of businesspeople from the small town of Harmony, Minn., an agriculturalbased community, decided they needed to help bring more jobs and more stability to the community. One gentleman, an
avid ice fisher and inventor, came up with an idea for a portable ice fishing shelter. After persuading five or six people in the community to put $100 into his business idea, Harmony Enterprises was founded. The business quickly expanded in products and in people, and by 1968, it
employed 300 people, the majority of whom were ladies sewing the canvas components of the ice fishing shelters, as well as items for the recreational vehicle industry.
In April 1970, the company's search for product diversification collided with the first celebration of Earth Day. The state of Iowa had banned the use of trash incinerators in the back of grocery stores, and as a result, trash and cardboard boxes were piling up. My grandfather
wanted to make something that would bale up the cardboard and make it easier to transport. The thought led to the development of our first vertical baler for baling cardboard. Today, our balers can also bale recyclable materials, which make it economical to ship those materials to
recyclers. We also manufacture commercial-size waste compacters that reduce the volume of waste, making it less expensive to transport.
Our first experience with international business appeared in 1989 when I walked into work one morning to find an inquiry lying on the fax machine. It was from a company in Taiwan. They had seen our products in a catalogue at the U.S. Embassy, and said that they wanted to use
our product as part of a new recycling initiative in the country.
Having no idea how to accommodate this request, or if it was even genuine, I contacted the Minnesota Trade Office for help. They had a representative in Taipei, Taiwan who was able to meet the customer in person, and helped us to arrange shipping and payment details for a
container of balers. The next month, the customer ordered another container of balers. He also mentioned that the recycling movement was taking off in Japan and Korea as well. A year later, the Minnesota Trade Office introduced us to a Japanese company, and four weeks later we were
at a trade show in Japan. In the midst of meeting hundreds of people at the trade show, I realized that doing business internationally was how we were going to grow the company.
After entering the markets in Taiwan, Japan and Korea, we decided to expand further, so we traveled with the Minnesota Trade Office to trade shows around the world. During that time, we also began to think strategically about what specific markets to explore, and when to enter
each one. Here is what we've learned throughout our journey.
1. Define a Market Indicator
Asia began thinking seriously about recycling in 1993 and 1994, and Scandinavian countries soon followed, so off I flew to trade shows across northern Europe. But the world is wide, and as a small business, I knew that I couldn't continue to travel everywhere to introduce our.
I decided I had to follow a trend for when to bring Harmony Enterprises' products to various markets. I searched for trends around the world that would reveal the right time for us to enter each market. As I discovered, the trend for our business is the existence of clean
drinking water. I thought, if they don't have clean water, they probably don't really care about solid waste management or recycling. I found that I could start introducing Harmony's products to a market about two or three years after it had established a clean water system. A few
years after that, people from the region began calling me to place orders.
2. Keep an Open Mind
Traveling in different countries, we quickly found that different cultures do things differently, and it's necessary to accommodate. These potential customers are not concerned with how you do things in the U.S. They want you to help them with how they do things in their own
country. So, we really are careful to listen to customers and discover what makes sense for them.
3. Adapt Your Products
Entering different markets, we have often modified products for our customers, not just in terms of the electrical dynamic and the CE markings, but also in terms of size. For example, we had to adjust the size of our balers to fit the smaller doorways in Japan. We made smaller
pieces of equipment that were a good fit for their environment, and we were successful. In truth, a lot of the equipment we sell today was originally adapted to fit the needs of people in other countries, Japan in particular. It is essential to rise beyond just providing equipment.
You must truly understand your customers' needs, then work to provide them with effective solutions.
4. Adopt an International Company Culture
As our international sales increased, we made a conscious effort to help our company evolve from a small-town perspective to a global one. Today, our production employees can tell you what the specs are for wiring equipment all over the world. They realize the importance of
adapting. They know that our market is truly worldwide and have really acclimated to that.
5. Have a Presence Closer to Your Customers
We've now just purchased a distributor we've had since 1998 in Toulouse, France. Our next project is working to purchase another distributor in Europe. We feel it's important to have our own presence in these places because Europe is a seven-hour flight away, which delays us
in providing hands-on support to our European customers. I've spent many nights talking to people at one in the morning, but even then it cannot compare to having in-person customer support available. To truly help our customers in Europe, we have a support team of five service
people and three technical engineers at our new location in Toulouse. I found that having a physical presence overseas allows us to have better control of our operations.
6. Build the Relationships
Candidly, I don't have a written agreement with one of my partners anywhere in the world to represent us. It's all done on a handshake. In short, I put my trust in them and we build strong relationships. In international business, strong relationships that work on both a
business and a personal level are essential. I have dinner with partners' kids, and I go to weddings around the world. It's truly a relationship that makes a deal. Certainly, it's important to learn the culture and customs of a country before you travel there. For example, I've
found that while being "Minnesota nice" works great in Minnesota, different cultures call for different actions and attitudes. But once you arrive, your success will truly depend upon the relationships you build.
Steve Cremer is President of Harmony Enterprises, Inc. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse in 1978, and became a Certified Public Accountant in 1980. From 1978 to 1984, he worked in the oil industry for Aminiol, USA, which was a subsidiary of RJ Reynolds
Tobacco Company, doing financial planning and analysis. Phillips Petroleum Company acquired Aminiol in late 1984. Steve remained with Phillips until 1988 working with strategic and financial planning and joint venture acquisitions. In April 1988, Steve moved back to Harmony, Minn.
to become CFO of Harmony Enterprises, Inc. Steve was named President of Harmony Enterprises, Inc. in 1990. Since returning to Harmony, Steve has been very active in economic development. He served on the Board of Directors of Southeast Minnesota Economic Development Corporation for
15 years, and was recently appointed to the City of Harmony Economic Development Authority.