Virginia Exporter Spotlight: Wako Chemicals USA, Inc.

Q&A with Lisa Komski
Senior Manager, LAL and Export Divisions
Wako Chemicals USA, Inc.

Wako Chemicals USA, Inc. is an international corporation supplying a variety of innovative clinical diagnostic reagents, bioproducts and specialty chemicals worldwide.  Wako is a wholly owned subsidiary of Wako Pure Chemical Industries, Ltd. of Japan, which is world renowned for its high purity chemicals. Wako Chemicals USA, Inc. began operations in Dallas, TX in 1981 and selected Richmond, VA as the site for the first U.S. production plant. In 1989, while the plant construction was still underway, Wako Chemicals USA closed the Dallas office and relocated to Richmond where it has operated since.

Wako Chemicals USA has worked extensively with VEDP since 2014 and graduated from the award-winning Virginia Leaders in Export Trade (VALET) Program in January 2017.  Wako has participated in a trade mission to Mexico and an independent market visit to Costa Rica, both coordinated by VEDP staff and Global Network Consultants.  The company has leveraged resources from VEDP’s team of internal/external international market research professionals and trade partners to increase their international sales.  Just before completing the VALET Program, the company ended 2016 with a 32% increase in business with 99% of its LAL sales to international countries. 

Why did your company make the decision to explore exporting?
Wako has a long history of exporting.  Having conducted business in Japan since 1922, we decided to expand outside of Japan in the early 1980’s to bring high purity chemicals, laboratory reagents and diagnostics products to the U.S., Europe, and other developing markets throughout the world.  Although some of our business sectors prospered with relative ease, others, such as our LAL reagent line, showed only minimal growth in the international market, so we decided to explore in more detail the services offered by the VEDP and their VALET program in hopes of expanding our company’s presence on a global scale.

What is the biggest lesson your company has learned about exporting?
Flexibility.  There is such diversity in the global market place that in order to be successful, you have to be able to adjust to the differences in cultures, lifestyles and overall modes of conducting business overseas.  Something as simple as a handshake, a bow or a certain respectful phrase being spoken can lay a strong foundation on which to build a lasting relationship.  Then, as the relationship progresses, showing understanding and flexibility with regard to regulatory requirements, shipping needs, payment terms and just the overall pace of how business is conducted will further help to solidify a partnership that will last for years to come. 

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started exporting?
The importance of advanced market analysis.  By utilizing the market overview reports from the VEDP and participating in trade mission trips with their in-country representatives, we were able to easily target the best markets for our product line and plan a successful strategy to attack those markets.  Not only did we learn about market need, customer demographics and the economic stability of each region, we also learned what our competition was doing in those same markets and at what price point we needed to enter to win the business.  The VEDP was able to do the leg work for us to provide a clear picture of the markets we were considering and allowed us to make an educated decision about those markets before dedicating personnel and resources. 

What advice do you have for companies that are just starting to export?
Educate yourself.  Learn as much about not only the markets you are targeting, but also the people in them.  Utilize the market overview reports from the VEDP to give you an overall advanced view of the countries you are interested in and the potential for doing business there.  Work with the in-country representatives to put you and your product in front of the decision makers that can help propel your international business to new heights.  The trade mission trips are an invaluable tool for getting you face to face with the people that matter.  Utilize the services of the VEDP partners who can help in all aspects of business development and build a focused strategy from what you learn. 

To learn more about Wako Chemicals USA, click here.