Generating Global Growth For a Local Manufacturer

01 July, 2019

Written for Accelerate- Waukesha County

by Bob Gross

Back in early 2015, if you had asked me about global growth, I probably would not have had much of an answer for you. Yet in only a few short years, my manufacturing company has surpassed all my expectations and continues to grow. Last year, Gross Automation set records for both domestic and international sales. Wisconsin is one of the best states, if not the best state, to grow an electrical and automation controls business.

Gross Automation, LLC is a growth-obsessed electrical and automation controls distributor with multiple value-added services that include supplemental engineering and UL certified panel assistance.

In mid-2015, Gross Automation was recruited and then accepted into Scalerator 3, a business growth training program sponsored by the Greater Milwaukee Committee and taught by faculty from Babson College. It was seven day-and-a-half sessions over a six-month period that included substantial homework and multiple small group meetings. The entire senior management team of Gross Automation was involved and obsessive growth was the theme.

Part of the Scalerator program included guest speakers. Roxanne Baumann, global engagement director for the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (WMEP), presented on the benefits of exporting. Conversations ensued and once again, Gross Automation was recruited and then accepted into the Wisconsin ExporTech program of the WMEP in mid-2016. ExporTech is a three-day program designed to help create the “why” for exporting. We developed and presented on a customized solution designed during this program. The German market was selected for our first market entry andI headed off to Germany that fall to test the waters at the 2016 SPS Show in Nuremberg.

Well, the sales results were less than spectacular. In retrospect, I went by myself with some minimal language skills and without having fully articulated “why” doing business with German companies was important to Gross Automation.

By completing ExporTech, Gross Automation was exposed to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and its sponsored global trade ventures and missions.

The next global trade mission was to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Doha in Qatar in early 2017. We applied for it and were accepted; I was off to the Middle East! Wisconsin has on the ground trade representation in the region to assist. They helped find and qualify prospects on our behalf, set the appointments appropriate to each company in the delegation, hired drivers, translators and body guards as needed, made overnight accommodations and even included some cultural visits. They were basically there to support delegates in whatever was needed to make the mission a success. I added a day trip to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates for additional opportunities.

Next on the program was a global trade venture with then- Governor Walker in September of 2017 to Tokyo, Japan and Seoul, South Korea. Again, the Wisconsin trade representative literally took care of everything. All I had to do was show up and present to potential customers. I added a day trip to Busan in South Korea for additional activity. With my daughter Katy, who also works at Gross Automation, we built a relationship with a father/daughter Korean company that continues to grow today.

Being on a venture with the governor changed things. Accompanying our head of state, the delegation was invited to see a country’s different political and economic aspects that we never would have without his involvement. He opened doors and broke down cultural barriers for participants. By being with our governor, we had additional credibility which translated into additional business.

October of 2017 saw Gross Automation participating in a global trade venture to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in Israel along with Governor Walker. Then in June of 2018, it was back to Germany (Dusseldorf and Stuttgart) along with side trips up into the Netherlands and over to Strasbourg, France. November of 2018 included a global trade mission to Sydney and Melbourne with a side trip to Adelaide, Australia. Each of these global trade missions and ventures resulted in both immediate increased sales and multiple potential ongoing projects for Gross
Automation. Three different companies from three different countries we met on these trips have come to visit Gross Automation in Brookfield.

Roxanne Baumann asked a question back in 2016: “Currently, you get some global business by accident. What if you actually tried?” Gross Automation has grown our international business from less than five percent in 2016 to just shy of 15 percent in 2018. ISO 9001:2015 is pending later this year with the assistance of the WMEP team. Just imagine what 2019 and 2020 will look like!