Once during a visit to Japan, an auto plant manager there took Bob Moran aside to discuss a worrisome problem with the vinyl mats his firm makes: One mat the plant had purchased was the wrong shade of blue.
The manager was deadly serious, " so I told him I was concerned and would have someone look into it," Mr. Moran recalled.
The matter was trivial. But as the president of Ludlow Composites Corp., Mr. Moran doesn't take the concerns of any customer lightly, especially foreign ones whose needs and customs often differ from domestic customers.
That detailed attention to customer needs enables Ludlow to sell products in 50 countries on five continents, and yesterday helped earn the Fremont firm Gov. Ted Strickland's Exporter of the Year award, the top honor among 27 Ohio firms receiving the governor's 2009 Excellence in Exporting Awards.
The awards were announced in Columbus at the conclusion of the Ohio Global Summit, a trade conference for managing directors from Ohio's global trade offices. The honors salute firms and organizations who show superior performance in exporting or heightened awareness of exporting as a vital component of Ohio's economy.
Ludlow, which began in 1943 and makes foam insulation and rubber and foam mats that cushion workers' feet against hard factory floors, was the Exporter of the Year for small and medium-sized businesses. Gorman Rupp Pump Co. of Mansfield won the award for large businesses.
Two other northwest Ohio entities were among the 27 to get Excellence in Exporting awards: Nissin Brake Ohio Inc. of Findlay and the University of Findlay.
Nissin Brake is a top-level supplier of auto and nonauto brake systems and engine mount brackets. Primarily in Findlay, where it has 800 employees, it exports products to Spain and throughout Asia.
The University of Findlay boosted its enrollment of international students from 464 to 901 between 2006 and 2008 and added a team to focus on the recruitment and support of international students.
Two decades ago, Ludlow saw international competition grow in other industries and decided it needed to begin exporting. It began with five overseas markets and less than 2 percent of overall sales from exports.
Ludlow previously won awards as a top exporter from the Ohio Department of Development and U.S. Department of Commerce.
Today, the company, which has 110 employees and $30 million in annual sales, derives 14 percent of sales from exports. Its executives attend three international trade shows annually and a recent show opened direct distribution to two new countries, Dubai and Qatar, which are part of the United Arab Emirates.
But Ludlow products often find their way to countries where the company has no direct ties.
"We will work with distributors who work with adjacent countries," Mr. Moran said. For example, Ludlow's distributor in Sweden sells mats to a distributor in Finland, who redistributes products to Russia, Estonia, and Latvia.
Exporting also has meant having to adjust products quickly when unexpected barriers arise, Mr. Moran said. Recently, the European Union banned products containing certain chemicals.
"We had one of those offending chemicals, so we changed the formulation in our product in just six weeks to meet the EU ruling," Mr. Moran said. "We are getting more and more requests like that, and we have to be responsive."
But such barriers haven't deterred Ludlow.
"It keeps you on your toes because it's always challenging," Mr. Moran said.
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