Diego Arteaga has lived his life selling in an international arena. Born in Ecuador, he attended college in the United States, where he got his first sales job selling books door to door as a University of Georgia student. After graduation, he moved back to Ecuador, where he worked marketing consumer goods for heavy hitters like Coca-Cola and Philip Morris and Compaq.
In the early 2000s, he moved to Miami and started working in the telecommunications industry, exporting GPS systems to Latin America. In 2005, Arteaga struck out on his own, opening DF International Group to wholesale consumer goods from clothing to electronics.
Five years later, Arteaga concentrated the business to wholesaling GPS systems. Today, DF International has $1.3 million in sales, and exports GPS systems that can be used for anything from consumer vehicles to motorcycles, boats and commercial trucks. He sells to customers throughout Latin America and the U.S., as well as Dubai, Nigeria and Canada.
DF International, based in Sunrise, is a family business. Arteaga handles sales, customer calls and outreach. His wife, Francis, manages accounting and administration, and daughter, Francine, a recent college graduate, works part time handling marketing and web development. The trio handles everything from unpacking goods coming in from China, Thailand and Israel to repacking them to ship out.
The company has no debt, and Arteaga sees potential for tremendous growth. He would like to acquire new customers, and increase sales with current customers. He wants to unroll a new product aimed at child and pet safety. But he is pulled in many directions, and knows he needs a concrete plan for growth.
“I know what I need to do, but I need to put a plan in place,” Arteaga said.
Arteaga asked the Miami Herald for a Small Business Makeover, and the Herald brought in Broward SCORE, a nonprofit with volunteer counselors from the business community who mentor small business owners.
The SCORE tune-up team was led by David Harris, director of marketing, Greenway Golf Course Management, whose expertise is in operational management, fiscal controls and marketing. Other team members were Hector Arrillaga, managed print services software solutions director for the Americas, Hewlett-Packard, whose expertise is sales, strategic planning and management; and Miguel Orta, a faculty member in the Entrepreneurship MBA program at the H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business, Nova Southeastern University, whose expertise is entrepreneurship, international trade and law.
“You have to plan a systematic expansion,” Harris said. ”Make a plan, but make it achievable, with a timeline and a target.”
Here is the SCORE team’s advice:
Write a business plan: Harris said to put everything down in writing. Include planned product expansions, and manufacturers and collaborators the company wants to add. Write down the company’s strengths, opportunities and challenges. Assess competitors. “How will your company overcome their strengths and how can you capitalize on their weaknesses?” he said. Orta said to review the plan annually and change course if new circumstances arise.
Hire a sales/marketing person: Find someone with expertise in international sales who can take some of the sales workload, Harris said. “Think about how you can intelligently hire people so you can grow,” he said. Orta said to consider hiring a graduate-level MBA student who is bilingual. Arrillaga suggested hiring sales agents in Latin American countries where they see most demand. “These agents could be on a small salary with aggressive commissions to minimize initial cost and maximize expansion,” he said.
Invest in growth: You have to grow in steps, Arrillaga said, which means you may have to sacrifice income for a year to invest in the business and hire new people. “Think about where your time is best spent, instead of doing all the labor yourself,” Orta said. He suggested hiring high school students to pack and unpack boxes. Arrillaga said Workforce One has a program that pays for on-the-job training for some workers.
Determine where best to attract sales leads: Arteaga said that about 15 percent of leads are generated through trade shows, about 40 percent from previous customers, and the rest from manufacturers. Arrillaga said DF International should map its customers. “What are the characteristics of the most profitable customer? Where can you find more?” he said. Orta said Arteaga may want to reassess his dependency on the South American market, because the strong U.S. dollar is having a negative impact on business with South America, as well as Europe and the Middle East. “I suggest he increase his domestic market share,” Orta said. “Find commissioned sales representatives throughout the U.S. that can increase his sales.”
Find capital: When you need capital, consider a Small Business Administration bridge loan for one year, Orta said, or look into lending programs from the Commerce Department that promote export businesses. Apply for loans for minority business owners from organizations such as Accion, www.accioneast.org, or look to local community banks that lend to small businesses, Harris said. Create a three-year financial forecast including revenue, expenses and projected profit, he said. “This forecast will be required to receive financing from traditional lenders and some non-traditional lenders,” Harris said.
Solidify branding: Create a positioning statement or slogan for your company that differentiates you from your competition, Harris said. Include this slogan on all of your marketing materials, website, business cards, etc., he said. Arrillaga said to increase impact, unify the company brand with one name, and stop using variations such as DF International Inc., DF International Group or Grupo DF Internacional.
Update website: The website has been under construction for several months. “You have been established long enough. You need a website,” Orta said. Harris said it’s important to have an online presence when trying to attract new international customers. Include a lead capture form on the home page to collect contact information from prospects who visited the site, he said. Include keywords in the website content that prospective customers use in searches. Arrillaga said to test the website on different platforms, such as Windows and Apple devices, to make sure it is working properly.
Think expansion plans through: Arteaga would like to expand from selling only hardware to selling the software to make the GPS operational. This would create an ongoing revenue stream, he said. Harris said to finalize a business development expansion plan and put it in writing to use as a guideline for future operations. Arrillaga said Arteaga needs to assess competitors offering tracking services, decide how he can differentiate himself and how to best execute it, through his own investment or through partnering with a call center.
Think about your long-term plan: “What is your ultimate goal? Do you want to become a big company and sell, or do you want to leave a legacy for your family? You have to look at both,” Orta said. Knowing where the company is headed will help Arteaga’s strategic plan, he said. “You have to determine — Where is my market, and how do I grow?”
Arteaga said he enjoyed the makeover process.
“With Miguel, Dave and Hector’s experience and education, I loved it. I could have them here all day long,” he said.
“They gave me a hundred ideas. Even if I only use 10 of them, it will make us a better company with the ability to grow.”
▪ The client: DF International Group, 13798 N.W. 4th St., Suite 306, Sunrise. Founded in 2005, DF International has $1.3 million in sales and exports GPS systems that can be used for anything from consumer vehicles to motorcycles, boats and commercial trucks. Customers are throughout Latin America and the U.S., as well as Dubai, Nigeria and Canada.
▪ The experts: David Harris, director of marketing, Greenway Golf Course Management; Hector Arrillaga, managed print services software solutions director for the Americas, Hewlett-Packard; and Miguel Orta, a faculty member in the Entrepreneurship MBA program at the H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business, Nova Southeastern University.
▪ The challenge: To expand staff and strategically grow the business.
▪ The advice: Write a business plan. Hire sales and marketing help. Find capital. Determine the best source for leads. Solidify branding. Upgrade website and marketing plans. Think expansion plans through.
How to apply for a makeover
Business Monday’s Small Business Makeovers focus on a particular aspect of a business that needs help. Experts in the community will provide the advice. The makeover is open to full-time businesses in Miami-Dade or Broward counties open at least two years. Email your request to firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Makeover” in the subject line.
Based in Washington, D.C., SCORE is a nonprofit with more than 12,000 volunteers working out of about 400 chapters around the country offering free counseling to small businesses. There are seven chapters on Florida’s east coast, including Broward SCORE which has more than 60 volunteer counselors.
Counselors from Broward SCORE meet with small business owners and offer free one-on-one counseling as well as dozens of low-cost workshops, such as “Guerrilla marketing” on Tuesday and “Creating an effective website”on Wednesday. See more under “Local Workshops” at www.broward.score.org.