When Harley-Davidson domestic sales began to slow to an idle, employees of RK Stratman Inc. of Wentzville knew they had to rev things up. They turned to University of Missouri Extension for help.
Stratman, one of the original 12 Harley licensees, produces more than four million T-shirts annually for the motorcycle giant's dealers. With the help of specialists from MU Extension's Small Business & Technology Development Centers (SBTDC), the company has been able to roll into the growing international market.
"According to the Small Business Administration, 97 percent of all U.S. exporters are small businesses, and 95 percent of the world's consumers live outside the United States," said Larry Dill, state director of international trade services for Missouri's SBTDCs. "This represents an enormous opportunity for small firms."
Dill and MU Extension Camden County SBTDC specialist Jackie Rasmussen have worked with the Stratman staff and SBTDC partners, including the U.S. Department of Commerce, SBA export programs and the Missouri Department of Economic Development (DED).
Rasmussen and Dill steered the company into MO STEP=UP, an SBA-funded program administered by the DED's International Trade and Investment Office that helps defray the costs of foreign sales trips, trade shows, translation services and other exporting expenditures. That was something in which Stratman could see immediate benefit.
"It's been a huge eye-opener," said Art Gompper, sales and marketing manager for RK Stratman. Company sales reps recently completed a trip to a Barcelona trade show, followed by visits to Harley dealers in the U.K., Ireland, Switzerland and Germany.
"It's proven to be very expensive to get out there to trade shows internationally, meet new dealers and make contacts," Gompper says.
By developing overseas markets, however, the Wentzville plant has been able to avoid layoffs and has even needed to hire contract employees during peak times. Gompper said seasonal climate differences in countries where their T-shirts are sold allow the company to distribute its work more evenly. "There's really no down time," he said.
"MU Extension has put us in touch with many valuable and reliable resources," said Melissa Rosenthal, international sales leader. "They have allowed us to expand our reach."
The Wentzville firm was founded in the 1960s by Ron Stratman, who still rides his Harley to work five days a week. The company now operates two shifts with 250 employees in a sprawling 305,000-square-foot facility that includes an art design division, screen printing, shipping, sales and marketing.
Stratman is known for riding a customized 1980 FLT wrapped in buffalo hide. The "Buffalo Bike" is a staple of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The company is still family-owned, with Stratman's wife and children playing key roles in the business.
With Harley-Davidson celebrating its 110th anniversary this year and international markets continuing to grow, the Wentzville apparel manufacturer is kickstands-up and cracking the throttle.
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- Story courtesy of Linda Geist, writer for University of Missouri Extension; photos by Megan Johnson
July 2013 newsletter.
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