business exit strategies, international trade, international entrepreneur

As your fiscal quarter or year is coming to a close, it’s a particularly good time to evaluate the effectiveness of your company’s various international business ventures. Many companies from countries with short-term business decision cycles (US, Australia, etc.) may be tempted to exit markets that are yielding lower than expected returns on investment. Here are several options to consider:

Exit as Quickly as Possible

If your company is about to fold or is significantly cash-strapped with few financial options, then by all means consider closing down some or all underperforming overseas operations. Keep in mind that there may be additional taxes or penalties owed for any workers’ wages, unemployment insurance, previous tax incentives owed to the local, regional or national government.

Another issue to consider is any future need to do business in that country. Business reputation takes a long time to build and a short time to destroy. The reputation is not only that of the company, but any individuals from the company who did business in that country. If Mr. Smith closes down operations in Indonesia and leaves partners, suppliers and customers in a bad position, then Mr. Smith not only earns a bad reputation for the company, but also for himself should he need to go back into Indonesia for a different company. A negative reputation is very hard to shake in most places.

Ease Out of a Country’s Operations

If a country’s operations is performing poorly and there is no reason to think that it will improve long-term, then another option is to slowly disengage from partnerships and suppliers in-country. This can occur when contracts come up for renewal or by renegotiating a smaller amount of goods. The idea is to preserve relationships and to also avoid costly fines from the local government. This is likely a better option than the quick exit when you want to preserve goodwill in country. Plenty of companies failed in their first attempt to establish a specific market. But oftentimes the same company will return years later and remember lessons learned (like Starbucks second attempt in China).

Stay and Make it Work

All new international ventures are challenging. One of the best options if you can afford it is to stay in-country and find new ways to improve your in-country operations. Also, there may be strategic reasons to engage in a low-performing market.

An example is the beer industry in China. There are hardly any profitable foreign beer producers operating in China. So why stay? The Chinese beer market increases by 30% each year. The average income of Chinese workers continues to increase and foreign beer is a status symbol of sorts, especially in the “night” market.  Premium beer may not be profitable today, but in 5-10 years beer producers’ investments will likely pay off.

Consider renegotiating relationships with partners, vendors and customers to improve your profitability. It will benefit your partners to renegotiate often instead of losing your business altogether. Look for new ways to increase demand. This includes new ways to use your product or service or different packaging size. Personal items like razors can be sold individually. Consider renting instead of selling a product. Services can be repackaged as seminars of information instead of delivering it individually.