This is the second in an ongoing series about companies who have successfully expanded into international markets. In this installment, we focus on a small business (about 50 employees) in Texas.
McMillan Flow Products manufactures precision liquid and gas flow measurement and control devices. Their product line includes compact flow sensors, switches, and controllers that are used in semiconductor manufacturing, automotive fuel consumption research, scientific research, and water quality monitoring. The company was founded in 1988 by Robert McMillan, an engineer who received several patents for novel hydraulic and flow control inventions.
Mr. McMillan built his company as a family business, eventually employing his son and other family members. He built his brand as family-owned and made in America, with all their products produced at a single factory in Georgetown, Texas. Today the company has annual sales of over $3 million, with 40% coming from international sales. Their products are sold in Germany, Croatia, Canada, Taiwan and Japan.
There are many avenues to international business success. McMillan Flow wanted to keep all manufacturing in the United States, so they built strategic partnerships with distributors in overseas markets. They were careful in choosing their partnerships, looking for distributors who would work with them in marketing their products as complete solutions for specific customer problems, not simply adding McMillan to a page in their catalog. McMillan also built on those relationships, working with partners to share booth space at international trade events, for example.
McMillan’s technical experts (including Robert McMillan himself) authored and co-authored articles on technical problems in the industry, then published the articles through well-known trade magazines with international readership. These were also partnerships, as the co-authors were often prominent experts from other (non-competing) companies. This helped McMillan to establish their reputation and display their expertise to potential customers in the US and overseas.
In 2016, the company began working with the International Trade Center (ITC), a division of the Small Business Development Center at the University of Texas in San Antonio. ITC helped McMillan with market studies to identify products in overseas markets that competed directly with McMillan’s products, and to identify use cases where they had very little local competition. This allowed McMillan to enter their target market with their most unique and competitive offerings.
ITC also worked with McMillan to identify potential customers and partners in new markets, such as Canada, the UK, and Australia. ITC even provided advice on common international business problems such as language and cultural barriers, and late payments from overseas customers.
McMillan Flow Products is an example of a small business entering the international market through carefully chosen partnerships in marketing, business consulting, and overseas distribution. They have created a flourishing international trade without ever setting up an office or factory overseas.