Export Hotline Gives Free Tips to Firms

UNITED States companies looking to build sales and find trading partners overseas are plugging into the Export Hotline, a free international information service available to any company with a fax.

Launched in 1992 by International Strategies Inc., a Boston-based consulting firm, the Export Hotline offers access to a database of more than 4,500 reports covering 50 industries in 78 countries. The reports, which are updated weekly, provide information on such topics as a country's commercial environment, distribution and trade barriers, as well as trade shows, business protocol, and investment regulations.

A section on Japanese business protocol, for example, describes the nuances of bowing. ``The traditional Japanese greeting is a bow, although a handshake is often substituted when the interaction involves a Westerner.... The general rule is the deeper you bow, the greater the deference and respect you show. The safest course is ... see what your host does and follow his lead.''

The hotline was set up to provide small- and medium-sized businesses with information on the export/import industry, says Abby Shapiro, chairman of International Strategies. ``There are very few sources of information that are provided to [small and medium-sized businesses] quickly and affordably.''

To use the hotline, callers dial 1-800-USA-XPORT on their fax machine. A registration form pumps out with a directory of country reports and their menu codes. Users then call the database in Boston on their fax machine, keying in a five-digit code to specify which report they want to receive.

Callers pay no registration fee; the only cost is the regular call to the 24-hour Export Hotline database in Boston.

About 28,000 companies use the hotline, Shapiro says, which is sponsored by such companies as AT&T, Business Week, Delta Air Lines, and KPMG Peat Marwick. On average, the hotline receives 1,000 calls a day, she says. About 60 percent of calls come from companies with less than $5 million in sales; 8 or 9 percent of users record sales of more than $100 million.

The leading industry sector request is food and beverages, followed by telecommunications, medical equipment, and textile products. Mexico is the most frequently requested country by 2:1, Shapiro says. South America also is becoming a hot market, with Russia and China close behind.

``We're seeing customers'' from the hotline, says Martha Braizblot, president of Nini Natural Cosmetics Inc., an exporter of cosmetics accessories based in Glen Cove, N.Y.

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