Guided by five generations of family farming expertise, John Miller has been developing unique, top-of-the-line animal care products for over 30 years. Built on the Miller family farm in Murdock, Nebraska, Oxbow Animal Health has revolutionized small animal nutrition by producing premium hays, specialty foods, professional recovery products, treats and accessories.
Founder and CEO John Miller has suggested on more than one occasion that, “it’s part dumb luck that we ended up where we are today.” He attributes much of this so-called luck to the internet, which took off and allowed Oxbow products to spread through chat rooms and blogs worldwide.
With nothing like it on the market, customers from all over the globe began placing requests to purchase their products.
Today its products are available in 30 countries globally, with foreign markets accounting for 25 percent of the company’s revenue with Hong Kong and the EU as the largest export destinations.
While all of their operations are based in Murdock, the company does business with a number of partners in other countries that help fulfil their global distribution strategy.
“From a marketing perspective, [the internet] has been essential to keeping the brand present overseas and to ensuring that our message is cohesive,” shared Lindsay Schmuecker, Global Sales Manager at Oxbow Animal Health. Schmuecker pointed to the company’s engagement on Facebook as particularly important to their international outreach.
Schmuecker added that the company receives and takes into account feedback from their global network when they host live events or post new products on their page.
The influx of international customers posed a new set of challenges for the Murdock-based company.
Regulatory changes around the world is the biggest challenge for the business.
“China is a market we feel has very strong potential for our brand, but we can’t import our products into the market because they are derived from Timothy Hay, which is restricted in the marketplace,” noted Schmuecker, who observed that the restriction has scuttled their strategy for engaging there.
Language and cultural differences, including customer expectations that vary across countries, are also areas that require research and due diligence and appropriately setting internal expectations.
Miller, the founder, was entrepreneurial in his pursuit of global markets, seizing any opportunity to enter new markets abroad.
“We made commitments to ship our products overseas, without really knowing a whole lot about how we were going to make that happen,” explained Miller. Figuring it out as they went along, the company discovered and utilized great partners and advisors, including government agencies, associations and other exporters.
Resources such as the Midwest International Trade Association, which Oxbow joined when it first began to engage in international markets, offered useful programming featuring other companies and advisors from places like the Nebraska Department of Economic Development to freight forwarders who were already engaged in international markets and able to provide advice.
“The U.S. Department of Commerce has been a lot of help for us as well,” said Schmuecker. She also highlighted the Food Export Association of the Midwest, which helps primarily with ensuring the company’s packaging is in compliance and help offset the cost of attending international tradeshows.
She urges entrepreneurs to be patient as they enter the global marketplace. “You have to be committed to international, because it’s not easy and there will probably be costs involved that you didn’t plan on,” said Schmuecker, advising that “you have to be willing to find the fun in it – to see your products overseas and build relationships with people globally.”
“Don’t be afraid to reach out for help,” she added, “you are not the only one who is facing these challenges!”