Seton Looks to Expand Into Argentina, Chile

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BRANFORD, CT - Cataloger Seton has weathered the bumpy economic weather that buffeted Mexico and Brazil in the last couple of years and is looking to expand operations into Chile and Argentina.

The real devaluation in Brazil last year actually helped Seton because "it came early in our investment cycle and allowed us to invest more since it had become cheaper to do so," said Nancy Wagner, Seton's director of international business.

Devaluation also speeded the process of localizing "a lot of our products rather than having them come from the U.S.," because a lower real made imports and shipping more expensive; so did rising import duties and long shipping delays.

Seton saw a market for its industrial safety products, identification signs tags and other goods because both Mexico and Brazil have large manufacturing companies.

Lists are a problem, as they are for all U.S. companies operating overseas, but since Seton uses target markets it is easier to find the decision maker within companies with the authority to buy product.

"We go for the president or CFO of larger companies, for safety directors, facility, maintenance and even HR personnel. We target companies by SIC codes and we do selection by title.

"We know our product well enough to test the market by employee size of companies. We test to find out if companies with 100-plus employees are better in a specific market than smaller firms.

"We do worry about running out of names so we do a lot of in-house compiling. We join manufacturing associations to get membership lists. We establish relationships with list owners to show that sharing lists is to our mutual benefit."

Wagner said Seton uses US-based list brokers such as Direct Media, Infocore and MMI for more Mexican and Brazilian names. In Brazil it uses Datalistas, the Abril publishing giant's list that DMI handles in the U.S.

US catalogs are "tweaked" to make them more acceptable in South America. Creatives, printing and mailing for Mexico are done in the U.S. Brazil does creative and everything else locally.

"We hire locally from the beginning managers who understand the culture and can take a U.S product and convert it," Wagner said. "And our managers also share a lot of information with their sister companies.

"Our marketing manager in Brazil can take ideas from our operations in Germany, France, Italy, Australia or Canada (the company does business in 12 foreign countries) so that she does not have to reinvent the wheel."

Seton uses telemarketing in both countries, less in Mexico than in Brazil where some outbound calling is done.

Seton began manufacturing operations in Brazil in late September. It also has its own warehouse in a suburb of Sao Paulo.

In Mexico Seton operations are basically a call center because finding affordable property in Mexico City is difficult, Wagner said.

The company has Web sites in most foreign locations, including online shopping facilities in the UK, Germany and Canada. Mexico has a Web site. Brazil doesn't but is in the process of putting one up.

"We look at Latin America as just beginning," Wagner said, "And we can look at our German company that is celebrating its 10th anniversary for comparison purposes. We can compare response rates in both places and see where we were in one place and where we should be in another."

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