See The World

"IT'S A SMALL (BUSINESS) world" in the Apr. 17 issue was the topic of a Business Week Online conference with Katherine Allen, who with her mother, runs Allen Filters Inc. in Springfield, Mo. As about half the company's $4 million in annual sales are overseas, she is well qualified to talk about global opportunities for small business. Here are excerpts from the conference, available in full on America Online.

Q. What's the secret of your success?

Allen: Three factors: One, strong product with emphasis on quality. Two, creative marketing strategies. Three, cultural sensitivity: We understand the rest of the world doesn't operate the way we do.

Q. Do you partner with larger companies overseas?

A. Our partnering has come through multinational oil companies as customers. We have partnered with a compressor manufacturer in France. But typically we operate through agents in foreign countries.

Q. Do you think partnering or using agents is generally better for small businesses than establishing their own presence in a foreign country?

A. Yes. One: The cost factor is minimized. Two: It is important to have someone in the country to understand local customs and requirements your customers may have. Three: It helps you leverage resources.

Q. How can access to the Internet help a small business market globally?

A. We have not used it. However, the information available online through the U.S. Commerce Dept., libraries, and universities can be invaluable to obtaining market research information.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.