A- study- to -identify -international -business
Jorge Sanchez understands how business is done there, having run a custom brokerage operation in Nuevo Laredo in the 1980s. And he has drawn on that experience to build Sana International Commerce Inc., which has been in business in San Antonio since 1993.
The company specializes in heavy-equipment exports to Latin American countries - concentrating on the oil, locomotive and maritime industries. "We provide parts and services to locomotives and ships in the bigger countries of South America - Argentina, Chile, Brazil - and Mexico as well," says Sana's sales manager, Rosie ortiz. Sana's business has been especially promising in the locomotive industry, as many of South America's trains are old and the parts are in continuous need of replacement. "The equipment in Latin America is 20 years old or more," Sanchez says. Sanchez, who is the president of the company, says that the business has experienced significant growth since it first began operations. The company has nine employees and projects revenues of $750,000 for this coming year. Sana's success has not gone unnoticed. The U.S. Small Business Administration recently named Sanchez the 1997 Small Business Exporter of the year for the San Antonio region. "He's involved in a very unique business," says Henry Cardenas, international trade officer for the SBA's office in San Antonio. Cardenas says SBA officials were impressed with Sanchez's dynamic spirit as a businessman. "Sanchez has been able to bridge the gap between the small businesses and the larger companies, working with suppliers who would usually not be involved with smaller businesses," Cardenas says. Despite the growth and the achievements, however, Sanchez and ortiz say that there have been obstacles along the road. The biggest problem has been finding suppliers. Sanchez started the company with money he earned from his business in Nuevo Laredo. And right away, people were quick to tell him that he was making a mistake in his decision to launch an equipment export company in San Antonio. "When he first came here, he started sending out advertisements for heavy locomotive equipment," ortiz says. "People told him that he was wasting his time; that no one in San Antonio was qualified to provide this equipment." And while some of the parts for Sana's clients do come from as far away as Chicago, the company has found that there are local vendors that have been able to meet Sana's needs. Despite the stumbling blocks, both Sanchez and ortiz say they find their work with Sana fulfilling. For ortiz, the challenge of finding the right part at the right price is the best part of the job. "I do not stop until I find a part, and then I find the source that has the best price," she says. "To be able to go back and tell the client that I have been able to do this for them, I find that very exciting." Sanchez says that exporting is a very competitive field. But he adds that his company has carved out a strong niche, in part because it has the ability to speak to clients in their own language. "One thing we have seen, Latin American companies want to work with someone who can speak to them in their own language," Sanchez says. This means not only being able to speak Spanish but Portuguese as well, when it comes to dealing with Sana's Brazilian clients. Sanchez is fluent in both languages. Another strength Sanchez brings to the exporting game is an understanding of the culture in which his clients operate their businesses. "He always studies a country before going over there - the customs, the ways of life," ortiz says. "That is why we have been able to gain the trust of our clients. And once they trust you, the doors begin to open." While the maritime and the locomotive industries have been the most lucrative for Sana so far, Sanchez says he would like to expand his company's presence in the oil industry. He also sees another new opportunity in the transportation industry. "This year I will be traveling and sending brochures to different countries to let them know what services I can provide for their subway systems," Sanchez says. And Sanchez already has one location in mind. "I want to go to Buenos Aires, Argentina. They have the oldest subway - about 90 years old," he says. "That's a good customer." If Sana is successful in expanding its horizons, that also bodes well for San Antonio and other businesses operating here. "My preference is to work with companies in San Antonio - even though people said it could not be done," Sanchez says. "South American countries know little about San Antonio, but they are beginning to be more aware of its potential. This is a town that has excellent possibilities."