Strategy Success Stories

TREND Group USA explores a world of opportunity for its high-design sustainable product made in Florida

Whether you want to save the world or just save time in installation and upkeep, Charlotte Russell says her company offers an engineered stone product that is as beautiful as granite but doesn’t kill mountains in the process. Best of all it is manufactured right here in Florida.

Russell is CEO of TREND Group USA, which is part of the global TREND Group, a leader in surfaces for residential and commercial uses. TREND Group USA is one of three related companies based in Florida. E-Stone, which is the manufacturing facility for the company’s engineered stone product called etherium, is located in Sebring, and has been operating since 2006. Trend Group USA’s corporate office is in Miami along with the corporate base of RockSolid Granit, franchisor of the Granite and Trend Transformations franchise network of over 50 locations. Russell is also CEO of RockSolid Granit USA/UK.

The etherium by E-Stone manufactured in Sebring is “a very exciting product,” Russell said. “It is up to 76% post-consumer material, which means it meets all the green construction requirements. It’s a very thin product … Let’s say in a typical house if you wanted to redo your kitchen. 99% of the time we’re going to go right over your existing countertops, which means it costs a lot less money because there’s no demolition involved.”

While the product is thin, it is every bit as durable as more traditional products, Russell said. “You can renovate your kitchen in a day and it endures for a lifetime.” What’s more, because it’s not porous like granite, it doesn’t require the constant upkeep of granite and marble either, she said. “I guess you can say I’m a true believer. It’s just a great product.”

Then, last year, in response to the pandemic, the company decided to partner with the company Microban. “Now every one of our slabs that come out of our factory is treated in the manufacturing process with Microban, which prevents the growth of bacteria within a 24 hours cycle by 99.8%,” she said.

And last but certainly not least, think about the environment. “It doesn’t kill mountains,” Russell said of the etherium by E-Stone product line. “Those mountains can never be rebuilt.”

When there’s a world of opportunity for your product, where do you start?

It turns out there are a lot of new markets that the company is now exploring for its etherium by E-Stone product line, and Florida SBDC at FIU, the small business development center within the university’s College of Business, has been helping the company with that. FSBDC at FIU offers no-cost consulting and training to businesses in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

Bob McHugh, TREND Group USA’s VP of Sales and Development, explained that the company was doing a lot of business globally but the sales were one-offs – they found a customer or a customer found them — rather than a strategic marketing strategy. “Then we discovered there’s a lot of demand in those countries but getting to the other business entities is a challenge timewise and knowing the proper path to get there.”

That’s where Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development organization, and FSBDC at FIU come in.

One of the services FSBDC offers through a partnership with Enterprise Florida is a comprehensive and custom Export Marketing Plan. Because Enterprise Florida provides grants to qualifying businesses that subsidize nearly all the costs for qualifying companies, the plan – often with more than 100 pages of data and critical strategic insights  – can be prepared and provided for just $500 to businesses.

In June of last year, McHugh started working with FSBDC at FIU’s team, including on its Export Marketing Plan, which was researched and prepared by FSBDC consultant Shelly Bernal, an expert in strategic growth and international trade, through the partnership with Enterprise Florida. With the new report, McHugh and his company are working on a detailed plan for its first two expansion countries, with more to come, he said. “So it’s been a lot of learning, and I’ve been very pleased.”

In December, the company also started looking into participating in trade shows again, too. ”It’s been a rough year for trade shows but  there are a couple shows that we’re working on right now with Enterprise Florida. One of them is in Arab Health Expo in Dubai in June.”

Enterprise Florida has been helping Trend USA engage with some of these other countries to help develop some relationships. At the same time, FSBDC at FIU has been assisting with that strategic Export Marketing Plan to drill down on the best new markets to target.

“Honestly, there’s such a wealth of knowledge in there I think we’re just starting to tap into that. This is something we will go back to probably on a quarterly basis to look at new areas and see where we can develop some more interest,” said McHugh. “We were pleasantly surprised to find out there are some countries pretty close to us, in the Caribbean and South America, that we didn’t realize had high demand for our products, and we will be [targeting] some of those markets in the near future as well.”

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