Most of us are familiar with the liriope plant, right? It's the flowering ornamental border grass usually with purple or white blooms.
You probably didn't know the world's top producer of liriope is located in the central Louisiana community of Forest Hill. Manfred Robert, General Manager of the Liriope Factory Sales, produces 18-different varieties of liriope and sells the bare-root plants to customers across the globe.
Exporting products to a foreign country can be a daunting endeavor. How did he do it?
Manfred Robert began working with the Southern United States Trade Association (SUSTA) about 15 years ago to help him tap into the European market.
What is SUSTA? A non-profit organization, SUSTA works with state departments of agriculture within its region to help small and medium-sized companies to promote their value-added food and agricultural products in foreign markets. The organization assists small companies in several ways which include reduced fees to attend international trade shows, access to market research and other export resources, 50-percent cost-share where a company is reimbursed for eligible marketing expenses to promote products in foreign markets.
Manfred Robert said he could not have accomplished what he has without the help of SUSTA. "I couldn't develop the European market without SUSTA because it would be too expensive. The SUSTA organization also gives your company more creditability with potential customers."
Manfred Robert is fresh from a recent trade mission in Essen, Germany where SUSTA helped Robert and others attend IPM, the world's largest horticultural trade show. This year he sold 222,000 plants, valued at $80,000, to customers in Italy, Netherlands, Spain and Belgium.
"The first year there (IPM) we had some potential leads and we saw a future to start selling into the European market," Manfred Robert said. "The first couple of years my sales were very, very small. After the third year, we created a presence at IPM. Customers started seeing us every year we started building relationships."