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From Albion, Michigan to Argentina and Mexico, Challenger Communications, an antenna systems manufacturer, exports to global markets.
World-class antenna manufacturer Challenger Communications, LLC, is a 12-person operation in Albion, Mich. that has championed international trade, exporting products across the world. Challenger’s top-of-the-line antenna systems are sold for commercial use as well as application in the defense industry. Direct exports account for 11 percent of the company’s total revenue with clients in Europe, Mexico and South America.
Prior to forming Challenger Communications in 2011, Gene Sorgi was vice president and director of manufacturing of Patriot Antenna Systems. The business was purchased by another company in 2007 and the factory closed in 2010. Demand from Patriot’s former customer in the U.K. remained, so with his experience and expertise, Sorgi built Challenger Communications from the ground up. After fulfilling the order from the customer in the U.K., Challenger strategized about the company’s goals and potential in international markets.
In 2015, Challenger was busy identifying new markets to enter when the company was introduced to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) International Trade Program. In order to expand to additional global markets, Challenger knew they would need assistance getting in front of key decision makers at companies that were the best fit for them.
Through a partnership with the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers (GSGP), MEDC’s International Trade Program works closely with international trade centers in six regions around the world. These centers provide services to companies interested in expanding their sales to the Arab Gulf, Brazil, Canada, China, Europe, and Mexico. The centers are in-country and well-suited to vet local agents, distributors and customers.
In November 2017, Challenger joined its first MEDC-sponsored trade mission traveling to Brazil and Argentina, and spending a week engaging in high-quality meetings and initiating sales. Six months after the trip, a purchase order that originated from meetings in Argentina became finalized. In March 2018, Challenger traveled to Mexico on another GSGP mission in partnership with MEDC. Only eight months later, they received another purchase order as a result of that trip. Although the industry norm is a long 1- to 3-year business cycle, Challenger experienced much faster than normal turnaround time on deals because of participation in these trade missions.
“While in-country on the trade missions, MEDC’s International Trade Centers take care of the logistics that we don’t have time to do, and they speak the local language, which helps tremendously. They take a list of companies we are interested in, confirm that those companies are interested in our products, and set up the meetings,” said Jill Reschke, Challenger Communications’ director of sales and marketing. “They also make all the arrangements that make meeting possible, like transportation and translators. And the safety and comfort that traveling in a group provides, especially a group that knows the area, local laws and signage is invaluable.”
Challenger leveraged the MEDC International Trade financial assistance program (MI-STEP) and has been awarded nine SBA and state-funded grants to offset expenditures related to export development. These MI-STEP grants offset the cost of the trade missions they attended as well as exhibiting at trade shows like the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show. Challenger has been exhibiting at the NAB Show since 2016. Exhibition at this show is critical for its business since it provides exposure to many companies – foreign and domestic – who would not otherwise know they existed. Seeing these contacts at the show strengthens these relationships and keeps Challenger at the forefront of the industry.
Challenger’s export sales increased 2,735 percent from 2015 to 2016 – its first year as a client of MEDC’s International Trade Program. From 2015 to 2018, the company’s export sales grew a total of 12,533 percent. To continue growing, Challenger plans to keep working with MEDC on future trade missions.