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    Uniquely Slovenia Draws on Canadian Expertise


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 1/2002

    Can the successes achieved by the Uniquely B.C. Creative Arts Show and the Uniquely Canada Show be transferred to a developing or transition country? The experience of Slovenia, whose trade officials hired Barbara Mowat and her team to help them prepare to showcase local crafts internationally, suggests the model is indeed transferable. Peter Hulm interviewed Zdenka Kovac, director of Slovenia's Small Business Development Centre (PCMG), about the origins of the First Uniquely Slovenia Gift Show held in Los Angeles, California, in July 2001.

    Interview by Peter Hulm

    Q You took over a Canadian model for helping small businesses to market themselves internationally. How did this work out in Slovenia?

    A We were a little bit tired of training programmes that were based mainly on general principles of marketing, and I believe small businesses in Slovenia were tired of that as well. So when, just by chance, we identified the Uniquely B.C. programme that has been successful in Canada, we decided within the Government that we were going to try it in Slovenia. That is the first important lesson: a critical number of people in government has to take this decision and this risk.

    Q What was the next challenge?

    A When we looked at how to design and implement the programme, the main challenge was to find a local organization to be the implementer. It was decided that the Small Business Development Centre would be the coordinator. We also invited some private institutions dealing with trade promotion in order to create a critical mass in the number of domestic teams.

    Q Was it a problem that you called in someone from North America?

    A Because Mrs Mowat came from a well-developed part of the world, the whole initiative gained in attractiveness for small businesses in Slovenia. It was the major benefit of this programme. We received some criticism from would-be domestic promoters who said we could do it alone without foreign advice. For me personally, and the team around me, it was the opposite. We were totally convinced that somebody who knows the market we were trying to sell to was absolutely essential. Then once she was introduced to the small business community, we became convinced that it was going to happen and it would be a success.

    Q What benefits did you get from an outside consultant?

    A Sometimes when you look at products from inside you don't see their importance for potential markets. She brought in merchandise specialists from Canada and the United States to tell us: "OK, this product has potential; this product has to be redesigned a little; this product might be a little too expensive, etc." They gave hundreds and hundreds of pieces of practical advice to producers to be more competitive in the United States market. It was a practical approach, practical training, not just theory about what is the right marketing mix, etc.

    Q What was the response?

    A We made an open call for entries. We were extremely surprised that right at the beginning we received applications from more than 130 potential producers to join the programme. We were even more surprised when the merchandise specialists identified 70 of them as potential products for the United States market, and 68 of them decided to attend the Los Angeles show (July 2001). They not only received very practical assistance, very practical advice and very practical training in the seminars led by Barbara, but our domestic teams, too, attended the first seminars and she trained them so that in the future, they can provide most of the assistance directly. So we will use foreign expertise only for specific activities such as the assessment process.

    In addition, we found that this model and the experience that we gained through this cooperation between national institutions with private providers from outside, could be easily replicated. So now we are discussing the issue with "Stability Pact" countries, mainly former Yugoslavian republics - how we can use this model and adapt it to their situation as well - because we know that all former Yugoslavia is especially rich in arts and crafts, and I believe they are the first range of products that might be more exportable.

    Zdenka Kovac is the director of the Small Business Development Centre (PCMG), Slovenia. She can be reached at zdenka.kovac@pcmg.si