Sunnen Products Co. – St. Louis
If you’ve touched down safely, driven home or cut the grass without incident, you can probably thank Sunnen Products.
And Tom Dustman, international sales director at Sunnen Products, thanks the MU International Trade Center.
The International Trade Center is a partnership of the University of Missouri Extension Business Development Program, Missouri Small Business Development Centers and the University of Missouri Trulaske College of Business. The center helps firms like Sunnen boosts exports; one service recruits the best and brightest international business students for semester-long research projects that identify a firm’s best overseas potential markets with hundreds of hours of student research, expert center staff guidance, specialized databases and a laser focus on results.
Sunnen is probably the most influential American company you’ve never heard of. Sunnen doesn’t make commercial aircraft landing gear, diesel, automotive or small-cylinder engines. They make them better. The nearly century-old firm manufactures precision bore finishing machines. These machines, ranging in size from manageable to mammoth, perfect cylinders in auto brake drums, fuel injectors, truck diesel or locomotive engine components and hydraulic valves on aircraft landing gear, to name a few examples. They perfect them to incredible tolerances, such as a 15 millionth of an inch in the near future.
This exacting work is not just performed in the U.S., either. Sunnen’s 486,000 sq. ft. headquarters has approximately 500 employees and facilities along with offices or joint ventures in Hertfordshire, England; Ennetaach-Erlen, Switzerland; near Shanghai, China; in Milan, Italy; Saclay, France; even Brazil, Russia and the Czech Republic. Revenues on a consolidated basis are more than $100 million, 40 percent from outside the U.S.
Sunnen knows it can’t afford to ignore the nearly $1 billion global market for bore finishing machines, especially in markets they may have overlooked.
“Well, we know for instance that the orders for commercial aircraft have increased,” says Dustman. So in late 2015 and in the first half of 2016, a dedicated International Trade Center student team investigated firms that made aircraft landing gear.
“The research pointed us, and we identified, eastern European, Asian and North American markets,” says Dustman. “Poland looks promising. And despite what you’ve read and heard, Ukraine’s industrial base is doing okay.”
This research required the teams of students, led and managed by Larry Dill and Jackie Rasmussen of the International Trade Center, to navigate and extract information from such esoteric databases as Euromonitor and D&B Hoovers Avention OneSource. The licenses for these databases can be prohibitive to individual companies.
To get the same results in-house, Dustman says, Sunnen would have had to employ a marketing specialist Which would have cost the firm into the six figures.
Dustman says he and the firm’s management were impressed by the students’ thoroughness and preparation.
“The way the student team completed the assignments was impressive,” says Dustman. “When we (two product managers and Dustman) looked at the outcome, the yield if you will, in the presentations, we thought the work they produced was just outstanding.
“I have nothing but praise for Larry, Jackie and the students,” he says. “They are tireless in the work they do on our behalf.”
Sunnen is also in preliminary discussions with the BDP’s Trade Adjustment Assistance for Firms program, which assists manufacturers in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska respond to import competition.
Dustman has worked for the firm for nearly 40 years. Now, as international sales director, you might say he travels just a bit.
“I have two million miles on American Airlines!” he laughs. “I have gold status. I’ve visited 40 countries, seen things most people haven’t.
“Retire? I don’t want to retire. I’m having too much fun. I have been told by the president of the company he doesn’t want me to retire.”
The International Trade Center also has no intention of slowing down the expert work it does to promote Missouri exports. To learn if the student intern program is right for you or for other expert exporting guidance, contact the ITC today.
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