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Knowing Innovation: Louise Kern, Managing Director, GloBIS

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

By Vicki Matranga, Design Programs Coordinator

At the International Home + Housewares Show next month, the Innovation Theater in the Lakeside Center will present 21 educational programs, every hour beginning Saturday afternoon and ending Tuesday afternoon. The Theater, formerly located in the Level 3 Lobby, moves to Room E350 (near the entry to the Level 3 Lobby) where experts in new product development and launch will discuss critical and timely topics in our industry. To help you plan your time at the Show, we introduce you to the presenters with this series of interviews. Be sure to mark your calendars for these exciting programs!  Check regularly for updates on the schedule of Show events.

Prophylactic IP Protection: Tips for China and Other Countries Where (You Think) You’re Not Yet Selling

Innovation Theater, Lakeside Center Room E350, Tuesday March 13  10:30 am—11:20 am

KernLouise Kern specializes in international business intelligence for risk mitigation: market research, logistics, credit reporting, due diligence investigations, and vetting international partners and personnel. With offices in the U.S. and Europe, GloBIS researches important background information for clients seeking opportunities, subcontractor relationships and referrals in China, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Turkey and African countries. GloBIS advises clients on developing entry strategies and international intellectual property protection, issues of critical importance in our complex global trading environment.

Louise, what inspires your passion in your work or area of expertise?

GloBIS helps companies make more informed international business decisions by giving them unbiased facts on their potential partners, clients, markets, etc. so they’re able to be more successful than they’d be without our information. I’m thrilled when we help our clients avoid a scam but I’m perhaps even more excited when we confirm a partner is a good choice so the client can confidently move forward with the relationship.  International business is a type of international diplomacy – the smoother it goes, the better we’ll all get along. I like to think GloBIS is helping our clients have more gain and less pain in their global endeavors.

Why did you choose to speak at the International Home + Housewares Show?

We first attended the Show in 2004 and met many exhibitors interested in the China market, but with a lot of trepidation about how to enter it. Some were overly cautious because they feared their products would be copied, or simply not did not know how or where to begin to approach the market, so either they did nothing or they jumped in without a plan and got burned. Eight years later, far more housewares companies are active in China, yet there are still so many companies unaware of how available and affordable accurate information about their prospective business partners is, or what simple steps they can take to protect their brand.

It’s important to meet partners in person, but jumping onto a plane to do that before you’ve confirmed the bona fides of that company can cost you far more than the price of a report. We have clients who sign successful six- figure contracts with companies they’ve never met based on information we provided them in a report that cost less than US $300. Conversely, I meet companies who balk at ordering a background report, yet spend $15k on a business trip to China when they discover that over half the companies they traveled to meet don’t really exist.

Tell us what you will be speaking about and how and this topic is important for Show audiences.

I’ll go over some very simple and straightforward steps every company should take to protect their IP and brand. Even if you’re not thinking about ever entering a foreign market, such protection is all the more necessary when expanding overseas.  Some of the suggestions can be addressed right from your own computer screen; some will require your lawyer; others should be integrated into any factory you’re planning.

A critical point remains that in many international markets your brand can be high-jacked and lesser-quality products wearing your trademark are sold, not necessarily as obvious copies, yet diminishing the reputation of your goods because the buyer thought he was purchasing an original.  This happens in countries where you might not even be active yet yourself, and sometimes these counterfeits can even enter your home market.

Since this is your first time as a speaker at the Show, what are you expecting?

Although I’m speaking on the last day and people may be tired, I’m hoping listeners will be eager to have a seat and hear suggestions on how they can maximize their newly established Show connections into successful, IP protected, global business expansion. If your product is good, somebody somewhere is probably going to try to copy it, or at least apply your brand name to their counterfeit goods. You also need to watch who you do business with – whether a distributor, OEM manufacturer, or others—and starting off on the right foot will save time, money, anguish, and sometimes even your shirt.

How does the Innovation Theater help you spread your message?

Frankly, everyone exhibiting or even just attending the Show should be following the suggestions I raise in my presentation. Those who attend these programs are looking for information that will help them improve their business, and my suggestions are relevant to every type and size of company.

What kind of impact as a whole can the speakers of the Innovation Theater have at the Show?

The speaker lineup covers a wide variety of topics all intended to help companies be more successful, and the attendees wouldn’t take the time to listen if they weren’t receptive to new/unknown concepts to help their businesses.  So it’s a winning combination for participants to come away with information to really positively impact their operations.  I’m hoping my presentation will resonate with at least a few listeners and cause them to adjust their procedures so that their IP is better protected and they’re more confident in their international expansion.

What are some of today’s trends or issues that new product development professionals face in the housewares market?

I hear a lot of talk about export promotion as a way for companies to grow, and that’s where IP protection and due diligence is so relevant. All the effort companies invest in new product development can be washed down the drain if proper steps aren’t taken to protect that great new idea. This information is available – why would you not want information to help you succeed?

What do you see as consumers’ biggest concerns regarding housewares products?

Consumer safety is an issue which makes headlines every now and then, generally because something has gone tragically wrong, like lead content in paints on children’s toys, or BPA in plastics used for holding food or water. Knowing about the reputation of your suppliers can help reduce the risk that low quality materials will be used to manufacture your goods. A product recall due to a shoddy supplier can ruin a company, and at minimum will damage its reputation. That’s one of the ways a few hundred dollars to confirm the integrity of your suppliers can end up saving you millions.

What is the best advice you could give someone trying to get into your area of expertise?

I’ve lived in five countries, have an international studies background, am fluent in several languages, and have broad international contacts – this helps me recognize regional business differences that impact the relevance of the information we uncover about companies.  I’ve also had on-the-job training, which is invaluable in compiling and interpreting international business information. A simple example is that some Chinese companies work on much lower margins than U.S. companies; analyzing their financials in a U.S. context would probably keep many of them from getting international partners, but viewed in the Chinese perspective, many of these companies are leaders in their line. One has to be able to interpret the information correctly based on country, cultural, and industry differences. Then you can learn that there may be a very good reason for something which may look poor at first glance, and you’ll be able to uncover that explanation.

Thank you, Louise. You outline sensitive and critical information that is crucial to any business operating today. In our global trade landscape, makers and sellers of consumer products must navigate some rough terrain with unclear borders between virtual and physical business relationships. We look forward to your presentation on March 13, Tuesday at 10:30 am. It will surely inspire listeners to consider the contacts they make at the Show and plan their next steps. For those unable to attend the program, video recordings of all presentations at the Innovation Theater will be available at after the Show.

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