Display of Karmic Seed tableware stacked on a table.
New Jersey-based Karmic Seed has received new orders from the U.K. and Canada for its sustainable tableware through Alibaba.com. — Karmic Seed

Why it matters:

  • Global markets are a growth opportunity for small-to-medium U.S. manufacturers.
  • As manufacturers go digital and begin selling online, that allows them to connect with B2B customers anywhere in the world.
  • Services like instant translation and live chat are essential for international transactions and are attracting small manufacturers to the Alibaba platform.

Brah Electric, a San Clemente, California-based electrical products manufacturing company, has been getting new business inquiries from surprising places.

“Countries that we’ve never done business in – France, Malaysia, Thailand, Croatia – are reaching out about our product listings,” Brah marketing manager Michael Goodloe told CO—.

Karmic Seed, a Clifton, New Jersey, company that makes biodegradable plates and tableware from palm leaves and other sustainable sources, has new orders from the United Kingdom and Canada.

New York-based apparel and accessories wholesaler Bynes New York has seen an uptick in business from Australia, France, Canada and other countries.

These manufacturers participated in a virtual trade show hosted by B2B e-commerce platform Alibaba.com to connect U.S. wholesalers around the world with international buyers.

 The leadership team behind Brah Electric, standing on a beachfront porch with a surfboard.
Brah Electric, based in California, has seen an uptick in product inquiries from countries where they've never before done business, like France and Croatia. — Brah Electric

‘You can be a global company whether you have 10 employees or 100 employees’

The virtual show, Global Products Expo: Made in the USA, was designed to help small-to-medium-sized businesses become global players, John Caplan, president of North America and Europe for Alibaba.com, told CO—.

“You can be a global company whether you have 10 employees or 100 employees. If you think like a global business, it can open up a great deal of new revenue opportunities,” Caplan said.

Alibaba.com is the global B2B division of the much broader e-commerce corporation, the Alibaba Group. The group includes the world’s largest consumer-to-consumer platform, Taobao, and business-to-consumer platform, TMall, which both sell to Chinese consumers.

Services for small businesses became the fastest growth opportunity for e-commerce platforms during the pandemic, as those businesses rushed to find ways to sell online. Platforms like web hosting service Shopify, and Faire, the wholesale marketplace created to aid mom-and-pop stores, as well as eBay and Etsy, have seen small business participation soar over the past year.

Alibaba’s strategy to capture that sought-after market is to establish itself as the platform that enables manufacturers to make the leap to international trade.

“The best way we can help small businesses is help them export,” Caplan said. “From your living room, and on your laptop, you can sell to the world.”

[Read here about protecting your intellectual property internationally.]

The best way we can help small businesses is help them export. From your living room, and on your laptop, you can sell to the world.

John Caplan, president of North America and Europe, Alibaba.com

‘The world wants American products and American ingenuity’

Global demand for products designed and manufactured by U.S. businesses is “off the charts,” Caplan said. Some businesses that participated in the Made in the USA expo saw their inbound product demand surge 100% in the first days of the event, he said.

“The world wants American products and American ingenuity,” he said.

Alibaba.com has about 200,000 sellers and over 20 million active buyers on the platform.

An Alibaba.com survey released in October found that U.S. manufacturers were digitizing their businesses at twice the rate of other industries. It found that 93% of B2B companies were conducting a portion of their business online, up from 90% the previous year, and that 43% were using e-commerce, an increase of 8%.

International trade also rose during the period, with 63% of the companies reporting cross-border sales up 59%. Cross-border exports and imports made up an average of 25% of those companies’ businesses, up from 17% previously.

[More here on ways to diversify business revenue streams.]

 Ines Belakhdar, founder of Bynes New York, posting on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Ines Belakhdar, founder of fashion wholesaler Bynes New York, said the international reach of Alibaba.com is what attracted her to the site to begin with. — Bynes New York

A portal to millions of buyers and sellers around the world

The Made in the USA virtual expo on Alibaba.com allowed buyers and sellers to hold virtual meetings and conduct remote factory tours and product demonstrations.

The expo featured companies that are based in the United States, and design and develop their products here, but not all of them manufacture the products in this country.

“We’re focused on businesses that are here in the U.S. – where if the business grows it feeds our families, supports our communities and sends our kids to college,” Caplan said.

New Jersey-based Karmic Seed, for example, makes its palm leaf plates, charcuterie boards and other tableware in India, where founders Neena Gupta and Arpan Soni got the idea to create biodegradable goods for restaurants and hotels out of compostable agricultural waste.

Karmic Seed began selling on Alibaba.com in early 2019. Currently, most of its sales are to U.S. customers, Gupta said, but Alibaba.com has made it easy to connect with international buyers, with features like real-time language translation and chat by text. “We get inquiries from everywhere,” Gupta said.

Ines Belakhdar, founder of fashion wholesaler Bynes New York, said the international scope of Alibaba.com is what attracted her to the site. “You can reach millions of buyers and sellers from all over the world,” she said.

Brah Electric received 100 inquiries from international buyers during the two weeks of the expo. Brah, which manufactures replacement parts for electric equipment no longer supplied by the original manufacturer, discovered there is big demand around the globe for its niche offerings.

“There are a lot of manufacturing plants that continue to maintain and use their old-line equipment, and they can’t find products,” Garrett Garcia, director of product development at Brah, told CO—.

Alibaba.com, Garcia said, has made it easy to introduce Brah to the rest of the world without having to leave its home base of San Clemente.

“In the U.S., we know the big players and who to approach. But worldwide, we’re not on the ground and its difficult to market in those other areas. A site like Alibaba.com really gives us a huge opportunity for outreach to other regions,” he said.

Small to mid-size manufacturers should think beyond the borders of the U.S. when looking for new customers, Caplan said.

“You need to have the mindset that the customer reaching out to me from Mexico or Spain or Dubai could be a bigger opportunity for me than the customer reaching out to me from Detroit or Fort Lauderdale or San Diego,” he said.

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Published March 30, 2021