Global Report

Why you shouldn't rush to make that first sale

Noise Solutions profited from educating foreign customers first

Noise Solutions' Zeron Engine Exhaust Silencers

Noise Solutions’ Zeron Engine Exhaust Silencers (Noise Solutions)

It’s been, well, a raucous five years for Noise Solutions, a Calgary manufacturing firm that figures out how to dampen the industrial sounds that emanate from facilities like mines and oil-drilling operations.

In 2007, the company’s exports amounted to just $1.5 million, or about 17% of its annual revenue. The following year, however, the firm decided to focus more intently on winning offshore business. By 2012, almost 70% of Noise Solutions’ gross—or $8.7 million—was coming from a range of international clients, among them NASA, which bought massive, high-tech mufflers for the enormous contraption known as the “crawler transporter,” that shuttles space vehicles out to the takeoff pad.

The transformation in Noise Solutions’ export profile has been so significant that the firm recently opened a 55,000-square-foot manufacturing hub near Pittsburgh, Pa. The fast-growing company (which ranked No. 499 on the 2013 PROFIT 500 ranking of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies) had already established a sales beachhead in Colorado, and is developing a presence in Australia, says president and co-founder Scott MacDonald.

These days, the company boasts of clients that include a county-owned compressor station in a rural corner of Pennsylvania. Because that plant, which is run by four heavy-duty engines, is less than 300 metres from farmhouses, it must meet stringent sound restrictions. Two years ago, Noise Solutions installed a system of exhaust silencers and an acoustic enclosure to reduce the ambient sound levels by 23%.

Founded in 1997, Noise Solutions is an engineering-driven outfit that sprang up in response to mounting public pressure from communities located near mine sites and oil-drilling operations. With Alberta adopting more stringent noise regulations in the 1980s and 1990s, MacDonald and his partners saw an opportunity to develop more sophisticated noise-abatement equipment, such as fan silencers and industrial-scale catalytic converters. Increasingly, Noise Solutions and other noise-abatement firms develop customized noise suppression equipment and solutions for both new facilities and retrofits.

These days, one of Noise Solutions’ largest products is a 3m x 12m stationary compressor, a tube large enough to contain a compact car. “You get very, very high levels of acoustical attenuation,” MacDonald says.

While the firm grew through word-of-mouth recommendations, MacDonald says, the number of jurisdictions with noise restrictions for energy-production companies has jumped. These days, many companies don’t even wait for the regulators to show up. “In a lot of cases,” he adds, “these energy companies want to be proactive. They’re looking for buy-in from the community.”

The expanding sphere of regulation created the right market conditions, but the company gained an international customer base as its Canadian clients pursued projects in the U.S. and Australia.

In recent years, however, Noise Solutions has adopted a much more targeted and directed approach to growth, a strategy that depends on a lot of advance work and then a direct sales effort.

When the company decided to up its presence in the U.S., MacDonald says, it dispatched a business-development manager for short periods to Colorado, which is a hub city for much mining and energy exploration activity. On these visits, the manager would gather information on the local regulatory environment, and also set up meetings with current or potential clients. MacDonald describes that pre-selling process as “meticulous and patient”—Noise Solutions wasn’t about rushing in and trying to scoop up clients sight unseen.

Some of that advance work involves trying to educate potential clients about noise-abatement technology, a process that requires face-to-face meetings and even opportunities to engage with a target company’s engineers.

As Noise Solutions targeted Pennsylvania, MacDonald says, it adopted the same steady-growth philosophy, which meant spending a year probing local conditions and talking to prospective customers before dispatching a sales team and then establishing a base of manufacturing operations.

With the new facility now up and running, MacDonald argues that his company has been much more successful with its highly focused direct sales strategy than the firm would have been had it recruited intermediaries or agents to drum up customers. As Noise Solutions knows better than most, it’s always better to walk softly into a new market than to arrive amidst a deafening clatter.