GRIBETZ INTERNATIONAL INC.

GRIBETZ INTERNATIONAL INC.

Most U.S. manufacturers wave a final goodbye to their products as the truck pulls out of the factory loading bay. Gribetz International, however, is a bit more attached to its handiwork, paying annual visits wherever its quilting

machinery is installed.

Gribetz's support personnel have become world travelers, visiting end-users in 40 countries. But this great traveling expense has paid off, helping the company's exports double over the past three years, according to documents it submitted to the U.S. Commerce Department.The company does not release sales figures.

Annual visits are part of Gribetz's 3-year-old preventive maintenance program. Each of its markets is further supported with factory-trained service agents that stock spare parts.

"We started to export a little after our competitors in Europe, so we try to go a little further, as the new kid on the block, to show that we are committed to each customer," said Philip Shen, executive vice president, sales and marketing.

"Visiting our clients is an expensive undertaking, but it is an invaluable marketing tool that helps us refine and improve our clients. It also helps us evaluate our agent's performance."

Gribetz won the "E" Star award in 1993.

COMPANY DATA:

Chief export executive: Philip Shen, executive vice president of sales and marketing.

Headquarters: Sunrise, Fla.

Employees and facilities: About 140 people work at the 65,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, showroom and corporate office in Sunrise, west of Fort Lauderdale.

Regional sales and service offices are in Boston, Los Angeles, and Charlotte, N.C., International sales are coordinated from offices in China and Swit- zerland in addition to the domestic offices.

Basic business: Gribetz manufactures quilting machinery for the bedding, home furnishing and apparel industries. Its advanced single and multi-needle quilters are computerized for complicated, high-speed pattern design.

EXPORT STRATEGY:

Though Gribetz is represented by sales and service agents in all of its markets, looking for an agent is not the first step in entering a new market, Mr. Shen said.

Gribetz marketing personnel frequently will contact key businesses in a new market to evaluate the products they are using. Working with the U.S. Department of Commerce, they will evaluate the market's future potential and identify the most promising industry-specific trade shows.

The local industry association will be contacted to evaluate the market

size, identify advertising possibilities, and scout for potential buyers and agents.

"International sales is a personal business. It involves a high level of trust between two parties, so we contact businesses before we commit ourselves to a market," said Mr. Shen.

"Only when we are positive that a market is right for us will we train a sales agent and begin to build a long-lasting credibility."

Selling equipment that requires servicing and technical assistance from the manufacturer requires such a commitment, Mr. Shen said.

Gribetz maintains a staff with diverse language abilities to keep in constant contact with its end-users, as well as participate in foreign trade shows.

Markets: Gribetz accounts for about 90 percent of the U.S. quilting machine market and 60 percent of the world market, Mr. Shen said.

His competitors, European companies, have been active in Asia 10 to 20 years longer.

"Europe is our competitors' back yard, the Americas is ours," he said. ''Asia, therefore, is our common competing ground."

Over the next few years, Asia and Eastern Europe are likely to be the fastest growing markets. Latin America is also coming on strong, Mr. Shen said.

In total, the company is marketing in about 40 countries. "We are fortunate that our quilting machines are used in virtually every market," he said. "In Thailand, Indonesia and other developing countries we have success in their garment and textile industries, but not their bedding or home furnishing industries, since the standard of living is so low."

In affluent countries the situation is generally reversed, he said.

Finances/Pricing: Gribetz quotes prices in several major currencies. Letters of credit are frequently used for payment. With the company venturing further into Eastern Europe and other markets where credit terms must be more flexible, it enrolled recently into the U.S. Export-Import Bank's foreign credit insurance program.

Transportation: All but small rush orders are shipped via ocean freight. By developing a system to anchor its units in 40-foot containers, Gribetz has in most cases eliminated the costs associated with crating.

CASE STUDY:

Sabit: To penetrate Eastern Europe, Gribetz hoped to fly in a potential agent from Moscow for training at the Sunrise headquarters under the Special American Business Internship Training (Sabit) program.

Sabit, a U.S. government-private sector program to help U.S. companies in the former Soviet Union, is managed by the Commerce Department. It matches U.S. companies with Soviet business executives and scientists, paying for air transportation and giving a stipend of $30 a day to the intern.

The sponsoring company must provide the intern with housing, medical insurance and any other living expenses.

"It would be a great asset to us if it works out, we submitted the application a few weeks ago and are waiting a reply," Mr. Shen said.

THE GRIBETZ INTERNATIONAL STORY:

In 1940, Daniel Gribetz, doing business as Gribetz Co., began manufacturing equipment for the U.S. textile, home furnishing and bedding industries. Serving the same industries while expanding overseas, the company changed to its current name in 1988.

Mr. Shen was a Gribetz distributor in Florida when he was asked to join the company in 1987 to lead its overseas expansion. Four years later, after increasing exports from virtually 0 percent to 45 percent of total sales, Gribetz won the "E" award from the Commerce Department.

Gribetz was purchased by Leggett & Platt Inc., a Fortune 500 company and one of the leading manufacturer of components and products for the bedding and furniture industry. Leggett & Platt is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and reported net sales of $1.17 billion for fiscal year 1992 ending June 15.

Mr. Gribetz's son, Michael, is Gribetz's chairman and chief executive officer.