A 60-year-old family-owned business explored new markets with the Washington State Department of Commerce trade specialists, opening new opportunities in Europe, Asia and Canada.
For 60 years, the family owned and operated B&G Machine has specialized in remanufacturing diesel engines and component machining. From its start serving the timber industry, the company has broadened its client base to more industries and today its engines operate in locations around the world, both on land and at sea. The company’s state-of-the-art facilities in Seattle’s SoDo industrial district now include a new engine assembly operation with one of the largest engine dynamometers in the world.
Western Washington’s timber industry was the main source of customers for B&G engines until logging began to decline in the 1990s. Surviving meant modernizing the company’s operations and reaching out to new industries. By 1998, the nimble B&G had expanded to mining, marine, power generation, oil and gas with customers throughout the western U.S. and Canada. Having reaped the benefits of diversification, the company next set its sights overseas where the complexity of tariffs, customs agents and cold calls to international buyers required yet another adjustment to meeting customer demands.
As B&G’s vice president of finance and administration, Johnny Bianchi, along with his brother, David, vice president in charge of sales and marketing, successfully marshaled the company’s entrée to global trade, some obstacles were a little easier to overcome with assistance from the Washington State Department of Commerce. B&G had begun remanufacturing diesel engines from China, but ran into trouble when it was time to ship them back. Tractus Asia, Commerce’s long-time representative in China, stepped in to negotiate with Chinese customs brokers and freight forwarders. “It was like trying to thread a needle,” Johnny Bianchi said. “Tractus understood how to thread that needle.”
The company also encountered challenges close to home. Trying to send a B&G employee to Canada to work on an engine became so expensive, the company almost abandoned the project. But before the company gave up for good, Commerce trade specialists helped B&G make the right connection with the Canadian border service. That connection helped B&G find the procedures and requirements for temporary foreign workers so they will be in full compliance when the B&G technician was standing with his bags at the border. Now, Bianchi said, “Commerce is on the call list when we have an international problem.”
That trust and confidence played a role when Commerce was recruiting companies for a delegation to the 2012 Hannover Messe industrial trade show in Germany. But international trade shows are costly, and the Bianchis wanted reassurance the show was worth the investment of time and money. Commerce helped defray the cost by awarding the company an export voucher in 2012 that was funded through Commerce by the Small Business Administration’s State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) program [the program was renamed in 2016 as the State Trade Expansion Program]. That program helped small businesses begin exporting or increase their export sales. Along with the voucher, Commerce also helped B&G make high-impact connections with potential customers in the European market. “One of the big things for us was meeting the right people,” said David Bianchi. “Commerce helped match us with prospective companies, and kept us on track for meeting all our appointments.” The company also came away with a potential new market to explore—rebuilding gear boxes for wind turbines—and a first-hand look at the strategies of their European competitors.
After the April 2012 Hannover show, B&G Machine closed several deals that helped propel the company toward its goals of raising export volume by 19 percent for the year and improve its already strong international sales, which prior to the show, accounted for 40 percent of B&G sales volume. “We really took big steps forward at Hannover,” said Johnny Bianchi, “and having the support of Commerce was huge.”