Taking your business global can be both daunting and rewarding. For many entrepreneurs, global markets are enticing, yet they lack the foresight and business acumen to deliver real results. However, Roland Reznik, CEO of KD Smart Chair is no stranger to taking big risks that lead to even bigger rewards.
As the co-founder and CEO of Miami-based KD Smart Chair, he has become a tour de force in the global electric wheelchair industry–manufacturing an innovative electric wheelchair for people with mobility disabilities. While he attributes much of his success to hard work, he’s the first to acknowledge the right relationships open new doors and doing business in China was a major one for KD Healthcare.
China, according to McKinsey & Company “a $10 trillion economy growing at 7 percent annually, is a never-before-seen force reshaping our global economy.” Entrepreneurs like Reznik who seek to lead innovation and scale their companies embrace the opportunity.
Seizing global opportunities and driving innovation
“As everyone knows, manufacturing in China is much cheaper and cost-effective,” said Reznik. Meanwhile, he takes a balanced approach to global growth and plans to focus on local opportunities as well. “We are working on bringing the manufacturing to the states and building a factory here in Florida,” he added.
While many entrepreneurs are fearful of forging global partnerships, Reznik asserts that there are a few keys to success in China that often go overlooked. Primarily, developing working relationships with Chinese manufacturers can be difficult.
Reznik explains, “I would recommend choosing a manufacturer based on their supply ability if they can keep up with your demand, flexible payment terms – if they are willing to work with you in the long run or just looking to make one order.” But that is just the beginning. You’ll want to partner with manufacturers that are capable of agile manufacturing.
When you run a dynamic business that continually evolves you need a manufacturer that is agile. In the wheelchair market, most innovations have been refinements of existing products, with an emphasis on usefulness to active users. Most innovations are developed with private R&D and can be costly. Chinese manufacturers that understand these business realities are a key to success, “and the most important one in my opinion,” said Reznik. “Are they able to innovate with new products and improve on the current inventory? Speak to their R&D department on what they are currently working on and what products they plan to develop.”
Reznik is keenly focused on innovation and adapting to regulatory nuances. “KD Smart Chair has approached innovation by first listening to our customers on what new features and functions they want in our products. Second, we work with our R&D departments to find the latest trends and new developments in our industry.”
Staying ahead of the curve for Reznik also means staying on top of product development. KD Smart Chair recently released a new Special Edition (SE) product line of power wheelchairs with the latest technology and functionality that customers look for in a lightweight power chair that is designed for travel. “We are also working with our R&D team to integrate the ability to sync and control your smartphone to work with your power chair,” Reznik added.
Overcoming Chinese manufacturing obstacles
It’s hard for small businesses to break into the Chinese market. One of the biggest supply chain obstacles you’ll face is dealing with the litany of red tape involved in compliance and customs clearance. “One of the main obstacles we faced working with our partner in China is getting shipments through customs–which may take up to several weeks to a month to get approved,” according to Reznik.
However, Reznik quickly learned the ropes. “We just have to provide all of the necessary paperwork and documentation. The rest is just a waiting game for the agents to release our shipment.” Meanwhile, all developed countries, including China, have trade offices and business chambers that are devoted to helping smaller firms clear the hurdles. For example, The American Chamber of Commerce in the People’s Republic of China helps American companies succeed in China through advocacy, information, networking and business support services.
Doing business in China? What every entrepreneur should know
For entrepreneurs who want to partner with a local Chinese manufacturer, Reznik insists you need to keep 3 things in mind:
Craft a manufacturing strategy for the long game
A lot of entrepreneurs are focused on short-term goals that distract them from creating a long-term strategy. “Make sure you choose a partner/manufacturer for the long-term. Someone who is willing to work with you and provide you the support you need to grow your startup or business.”
Make building trust a top priority
“Establish a working relationship with the principals and the manufacturer,” said Reznik. “If you have to visit China to establish a communication channel and work out the necessary deals in person – do it.” The Chinese often prefer frequent and lengthy meetings to build trust before signing contracts.
Learn the nuances of Chinese culture and business practices
Reznik did not have any prior negotiating experience in China. “Before my trip, I did a lot of reading on the Chinese culture, etiquette and how their business mentality,” he recalled. But it’s not enough to be familiar with Chinese etiquette. “Respect their culture, tradition, and customs before visiting China and meeting with the owners of the factory. It will get you further.”
Strong relationships are your best currency in China
If you want to close deals with ease in China, build lasting relationships. “From my meetings and experience in dealing with my Chinese partners, I find that they prefer to establish a strong relationship before closing any deals. You may also have to meet several times to achieve your goals or close any deals,” Reznik admits.
Reznik has built KD Smart Chair’s manufacturing relationships by mastering a few essentials:
Make sure you are well-prepared for your meetings
Getting to know the people first who you negotiate with is vital before closing any deals
Learn how to properly greet people and learn few words in Chinese, but make sure you are aware of the meaning and the appropriate occasions to show your appreciation for their culture and heritage
Simply stating “this is how we do it in America/Canada/England” will not win friends. The Chinese place a high value on authenticity and have a low tolerance for posturing. Pay close attention to cultural sensitivities and common language barriers when you’re doing business in China. “Punctuality is vital,” Reznik added. “Being late is a serious offense in the Chinese business culture. Chinese people are also very careful about strong negative statements. Negative answers are considered impolite and rude. So be careful about how you phrase your sentences to avoid awkward moments and bizarre encounters.”
Execute your plans and improve lives
Often in China, a fundamental barrier to success is less about identifying opportunities and more about an entrepreneur’s inability to execute their plan more effectively than others. “I see many of our competitors are bringing to market the same designs and wheelchair functions as we did in 2014. What they don’t realize is that they are hurting themselves by not involving and selling these older models that are outdated and several years behind technology,” said Reznik.
Ultimately, challenges domestically and abroad did not discourage Reznik from building a formidable reputation and global relationships for KD Smart Chair. “I want to continue to help people with mobility issues and improve their daily lives.” Meanwhile, his mission extends far beyond his own global business ventures. Reznik added, “I want to help and mentor these young entrepreneurs by dedicating my time and help them avoid business mistakes to help them reach their goals.”
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