COLEMAN SETS UP CAMP IN NEW FOREIGN MARKETS OUTDOOR GEAR WARMLY RECEIVED

COLEMAN SETS UP CAMP IN NEW FOREIGN MARKETS OUTDOOR GEAR WARMLY RECEIVED

Few things seem more American than Coleman Co. lanterns at campsites or Coleman coolers on picnics, but this Midwestern company is also a global outfit ringing up rapid growth in international sales.

"We're not happy any year in which we don't increase in excess of 30 percent," said Michael Murray, vice president and managing director of Coleman's international division.He's been happy for several years now, and looks for 1990 to be another year of meeting that growth goal for foreign sales, a pace roughly triple the company's overall growth.

Foreign growth is especially meaningful for Coleman since a divestiture program is shrinking the company's overall size.

Coleman already sells to 110 countries, Mr. Murray told The Journal of Commerce recently. Its biggest foreign markets are Canada, Japan, West Germany, Britain and Australia.

Coleman is cautious about breaking down sales figures, but Mr. Murray said the dollar value of sales in Europe alone runs into the "mid tens of millions."

Mr. Murray noted that customers in less-developed island nations such as Fiji and New Guinea use Coleman gear for basic household lighting and cooking, while affluent Europe is a major market for Coleman gear as a supplement to daily living, such as coolers for picnicking.

After Coleman's own board resisted an attempt by the Coleman family to take the company private last year, New York-based MacAndrews and Forbes Holdings Inc. acquired it.

Since then Coleman has been selling some operations and shrinking the total size, but leaving its traditional outdoor line intact.

Although the maker of camping gear has the lion's share of its production in or near Wichita, it long ago established footholds overseas.

Nippon Coleman, a subsidiary, has operated in Japan for 17 years, Mr. Murray said.

That kind of long-term relationship is paying off now as Coleman is introducing a line of propane products - lanterns and cook-stoves - that were specially adapted to Japanese fuel needs.

A cooler production plant already in West Germany and plans to expand warehousing facilities for a full range of products Coleman ships to Europe should help the Kansas company position itself for the 1992 integration of the European Community's market, Mr. Murray said.

Coleman also is eying newly liberalized Eastern Europe, but with some caution.

Bob Ring, the company's executive vice president, said that because of sweeping political changes there, "only recently have we seen Eastern Europe as an opportunity" for product sales.

While Coleman will now develop a plan for the East bloc, changes coming in Western Europe "offer significantly more opportunity," he emphasized.

Noting that East bloc consumers have less money to spend, Mr. Murray suggested that Coleman's sales there might start with its coolers.

"People are going to be moving around more, and not have as much money in their pockets, so they are going to want coolers to keep their food in," he said.

Coleman imports many accessory products, such as cooking utensils and small battery-powered lights, from Mexico, Taiwan, China, South Korea, Thailand and other nations.

The imports are an adjunct, though, to the main export product lines, which require an intricate transport network to ship around the world.

Mick Whelan, export operations manager, said most goods are loaded in containers and trucked to Kansas City, where the company can tap into a major rail center.

Shipments destined for Europe usually go to Houston, while Pacific customers are served mainly out of Long Beach, Calif.

Coleman also trucks a lot of gear to Canada and for Latin American customers.

Mexico-bound cargo is trucked to Laredo, Texas, where it is trans- loaded to Mexican vehicles, Mr. Whelan said. South America-bound cargoes are often trucked to Miami for loading onto ships.