• Q&A: Dealing with Foreign Exchange Issues

    Q&A: Dealing with Foreign Exchange Issues

    Jeff Roseberry, co-founder of the four-employee Skokie, Ill.-based ProMark Associates Inc., had been focused on building his air purification systems business primarily in the U.S. when an international business opportunity came knocking.

    Around 2007, he received an invitation to present his proprietary technology, which removes indoor air pollutants in industrial and commercial buildings, for use in a new airport terminal in India. Today the project is nearly complete.

    Roseberry first introduced his technology in a casino in Dubuque, Iowa, in 2005, before expanding to India and then to other foreign markets, including Mexico and Chile. As a result of his experiences overseas, Roseberry has faced a range of foreign exchange issues.

    If payment is instantaneous, it’s not such a big deal. But when you quote it, and it’s three years later before you actually get the purchase order — that becomes a huge issue.

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    Here's what his experiences in dealing with foreign exchange have taught him.

    What lessons have you learned about foreign currencies in the past year?

    Roseberry: Exchange rates definitely are a serious consideration. The projects we get involved with are long term. I went over to India in 2007 for the airport, they adopted our technology in 2008, and then we made our sale in 2010.

    We started at 40 rupees to the dollar, but by the time we actually sold it, it was up to 50-something to the dollar. They screamed and hollered and said, "Hey, it's costing us too much." Yet at the time, originally they felt it was a really good number.

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    If payment is instantaneous, it's not such a big deal. But when you quote it, and it's three years later before you actually get the purchase order - that becomes a huge issue. 

    Currency fluctuations can have a large impact on the bottom line. How do you mitigate your currency risk?

    Roseberry: I haven't really figured that one out. You take the risk if you want the business.

    What advice would you give to other small businesses dealing with foreign currencies?

    Roseberry: You have to be keeping it in the forefront all the way through the process, so you don't lose track of the fact that you are looking at something that's taking a bit of time.

    What is a good deal today may not be viable later if things change. And then how will you deal with that? If the exchange rate moves in your favor, the customer is going to complain. But if it goes against you, they just want you to sell it cheaper.

    It is a risk. You have to be ready to walk away if the exchange rate goes really bad and say, "OK, my price is my price," and you have to pay more in your denomination of currency. You have to always keep looking at that impact and mitigate it as much as possible.