Foreign demand helps some stay afloat

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 25, 2011

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY ó Japanese demand for American-made sweatshirts has helped Granite Knitwear survive the Great Recession.
Forty percent of the T-shirts, hoodies and sweatpants sewn at the plant in Granite Quarry now end up in Japan, owner Mike Jones said. The company has four overseas accounts and is licensed to sew Champion products sold in Japan.
ěThat has kept us afloat,î Jones said.
Several Rowan County companies are using offshore sales to help make up for a loss in domestic business as the local economy struggles through a slow recovery.
ěItís all hands on deck for international sales,î said Dyke Messinger, president of PowerCurbers, who found a niche selling pavers and curb and gutter machines in the developing world.
The company, with plants in Salisbury and Iowa, had one person selling abroad, Messinger said. Now, there are four.
PowerCurbers machines can make highway barrier walls, and state governments were good customers before they went broke, Messinger said.
ěThey donít have money to do the upgrades to infrastructure,î he said. ěThere is a cap on that work, further pushing us overseas.î
Offshore sales have grown by about 35 percent, as developing countries build roads and concrete ditches.
PowerCurbers has sales in 40 countries, said Messinger, speaking from California, where he was attending an international trade show and trying to drum up business for tunnels, another new area.
ěWe are just looking at every opportunity to try to add some units,î said Messinger, next headed to Israel and Turkey.
Potential exists in China, India, Africa and Brazil, as well as the ëstan countries like as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Messinger said. PowerCurbers is working harder in Latin America and spending more time in Canada, he said.
Landing an international account takes longer than a domestic one ó up to a year, including several visits, Messinger said.
Better Building Products, a division of W.A. Brown & Sons in Salisbury, also sees potential in offshore sales. While the company may have a tougher time securing financing for projects in other countries, offshore sales offer good outreach and more opportunity, said Paul Brown, product manager for Better Building Products.
Better Building Products has a new offshore market ó areas hit by recent earthquakes. ěWe provide quick relief and durable structures for people in need,î Brown said.
The division has already started shipping housing products to other continents. Although international accounts make up less than 20 percent of sales, he said, ěthe potential is large.î
Billy Jones someday will take over Granite Knitwear from his dad, making him the third generation in the Jones family to own the business. Mike Jones took it over from his parents, Frank and Mary Jones.
Hopefully, Billy Jones said, Japanese consumers will continue to demand the Champion sweats made at Granite Knitwear. The company hand cuts and sews each piece of clothing, and pants come complete with a reinforced crotch, required in Japan to avoid any possibility of public embarrassment.
People in Japan will pay about $60 for a sweatshirt with the coveted label, ěMade in the USA.î
ěRight now, the Japanese are the only ones willing to pay,î Jones said.
Eventually, the U.S. economy will recover, and Rowan County businesses turning to offshore sales will have more opportunities domestically, leaders agreed.
But theyíre not counting on it happening anytime soon.
ěI have optimism in our international business,î Messinger said. ěPeriod.î
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.