Bill Rawheiser of Sun-In-One Shares his Experience Exporting to Africa and how Delaware Small Businesses Can Get Started There
Bill Rawheiser, President of Sun-In-One, has been traveling and exporting to various countries in Africa for over a decade. In 2008, the United Nations reached out to him specifically and asked him to assist with a project happening in Equatorial Guinea. That was the first time he visited the continent. Now the rest is history.
“In Africa, you can make money and make a difference,” says Rawheiser. Since his first trip years ago, Bill has traveled to the continent over 30 times, and Sun-In-One has developed sales staff and hired distributors in six African nations.
In this article, we’ll share how Bill got started in Africa, and why Delaware exporters should consider focusing efforts to expand exports there right now.
Relationships Are Key
Sun-In-One engineers efficient solar-powered plug-and-play kit solutions for everyday applications such as solar sign lighting, security camera power kits, solar shade lighting, solar micro grids, and more. The solar power industry is a growth sector around the world — especially in Africa.
Back in 2008, Bill focused on growing his US and export business. He had not done any business in Africa, so when someone from the United Nations contacted him to work on a project in Equatorial Guinea, he agreed to partner with them.
“That’s usually how you get started in Africa,” says Rawheiser, “direct distribution to the government, through wholesalers or people that are business people or diaspora that know of the need.”
When it comes to doing business in Africa, you must have a targeted approach. Traditionally in sales, we like to cast a wide net to see what customers we can “catch”. This approach will not work in Africa, you have to do targeted outreach, or get referrals from partners. From there you can grow.
“The hardest part is getting an introduction to distributors on the ground. That’s why the Export Delaware business trips are so worthwhile,” says Rawheiser.
When you participate in one of the Export Delaware targeted business trips, you benefit from the State’s foreign trade representative team, who makes those important introductions to customers for you. The State of Delaware’s trade representatives, Richard Zurba and David Garay, and their respective staff, live in Africa and are well-connected in the local business community. They set up meetings with potential customers in Africa on your behalf.
“Just because it’s a 20-hour flight doesn’t mean it’s far away,” says Rawheiser, “Start with a business trip to get feet wet first.”
Rawheiser admits, “you can easily get distracted by the mass amount of opportunities in Africa. You must be very focused on what you do, otherwise, you will be chasing down things that aren’t worthwhile.”
He recommends following the targeted approach in specific markets and securing distributors who have local relationships and can represent your company.
Unfortunately, this approach will not yield your business overnight success in Africa. In fact, there is no quick approach when it comes to doing business on the continent. It takes time to develop strong relationships that generate profitable business. A “boots on the ground” approach with sales staff or distributors who consistently “work the sale” for you is key.
“The timeframe may take longer, but the margins are high. Over time, your efforts will pay for itself, and the time and money you invested will come back to you.” – Rawheiser.
One of Rawheiser’s best distributors is a man who lives in Nigeria who was referred to him by a former Sun-In-One customer. He called Bill looking for a product for one of his own clients. Over the years their relationship has grown and Sun-In-One has been able to support him as he goes after larger projects.
In addition to Nigeria, Sun-In-One now has distributors in Ghana, Equatorial Guinea, South Africa, Kenya, and Zambia. They support them by providing marketing materials, technical support, and design assistance, thus equipping them to sell their products to local businesses and build out custom design solutions for larger projects.
Now is The Time
Right now is a great time to employ this targeted approach in Africa and begin exporting there. As a whole continent, Africa is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. African consumers and businesses are in need of so many different products and services that Americans can provide.
Demand for American-made products is high. African consumers are tired of getting inferior products from other parts of the world. They know products from the USA are of higher quality and some are willing to pay for them.
Unlike Europe, in Africa, CE Marks are not required to do business. There are no UL Listings that designate quality. In Africa, Rawheiser says, “There is no quality control except for your own ethics. This is a market where you don’t want to sacrifice quality for a sale. You must stand behind your product and back it up. Do it right the first time.”
Through this kind of positioning, you can create demand for your products and beat out the competitors.
When it comes to payment, the African business community knows that they will need to provide payment or a letter of credit from an acceptable bank to do business with you. As a small business, you don’t want to be “caught upside-down” on an order. There are ways to do this with low risk, so it doesn’t hurt your company in the long run.
Face-To-Face is Best
The culture of the African business community thrives from in-person interactions. Fostering high-value relationships is the way to succeed.
“Africans would rather do business face-to-face,” says Rawhieser.
With the longer sales cycle, Rawheiser makes traveling to Africa a regular occurrence. He also stays in constant communication with his distributors through WhatsApp or Skype.
You can start these in-person relationships on a business trip with Export Delaware. Our team will arrange business meetings with distributors, agents, or customers according to the unique, specific needs of each company participating.
We have two upcoming opportunities for you:
- Virtual Trip June 2021
- In-person Trip September 2021
The virtual trip in May is a precursor for the in-person trip in the Fall. If you are interested in joining us and would like more information, please contact our team at email@example.com.