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  May 18th, 2012 | Written by


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Matthews Studio Equipment (MSE) had a rare problem—products so good, they say, that customers rarely needed to come back for more.

The 42-year-old Burbank, California, company manufactures everything filmmakers need to hold a light or camera, with names ranging form oxymoronic (mini MAX) to oddly appetizing (Hollywood Beefy Baby Double Riser). Under the direction of movie production veterans Roy Isaia and Ed Phillips, the company revolutionized movie production in the late ’60s by updating designs to reduce the weight of cumbersome lights and related equipment.

The only problem? Growing the company’s sales wasn’t going to come from the replacement of worn-out product. The products simply didn’t wear out.

That’s why MSE turned to export. “Ninety-five percent of the world’s buying power is outside the U.S.,” says Robert Kulesh.

Here’s how MSE nurtured its award-winning export program—claiming a 2010 Presidential “E” Award and, more recently, World Trade Week 2012’s Export Achievement Award.

Now exporting movie production equipment to over 76 countries, MSE’s growth hasn’t been without the occasional plot twist. “We’ve had to make a lot of adaptations, too,” Kulesh tells us. Here are a few examples of how MSE adapted to break into a new territory.


Challenge When MSE identified Italy as a target market, they had one major hurdle: MSE’s stands are built for production lights with a female receiver, but Italy’s standard mounts have a male pin.

Solution Rather than try to bend Italy to the American standards that MSE’s founder himself had been instrumental in establishing, the company redesigned products to Italy’s specs, switching their male and female connectors.

Result Matthews rolled out a full line of Italian products, distinguished in the company catalogue with an “I” suffix. The adaptation was crucial to allowing MSE to gain clients in the prestigious Italian market.


Challenge Like their Italian counterparts, Japanese filmmakers also used a mounting system with a female receiver, rendering MSE’s standard product line useless in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Solution MSE couldn’t simply use their Italian product in Japan, as the two countries used separate measurements. Once again, to crack the new market, MSE manufactured a totally new product line, this time adding a “J” suffix to each product’s ID number.

Result MSE swooped up a number of new customers across the islands, and even outfitted legendary director Akira Kurosawa’s own studio. As Bob tells it, the most gratifying part of doing business in Japan was that he was able to meet Kurosawa, one of his personal heroes.


Challenge France-based Air Star manufactures unique film lighting equipment around the world. MSE identified the company as a potential partner—perfect for distribution of MSE’s line of very tall light stands, called the Mombo-combo. “They were all over the world,” says Kulesh, “and it was up to us to meet their standard.”

Solution MSE manufactured a mechanical coupling that would join the French product with Matthews’ existing line.

Result One example of the ensuing relationship’s success comes from Singapore’s Grand Prix. Air Star provided 1,600 balloon lights for an adjoining venue, and each was held aloft by MSE’s retrofitted stands.



With exports accounting for 43 percent of Matthews’ business, the company continues to add three to six new markets a year, often aided by their friends in the Commerce Department’s West Los Angeles office. What does MSE know that you can use?

Get reports on potential foreign markets. For a price, your local CS can compile comprehensive reports detailing your company’s prospects in a given country. You decide what markets are best for you.

Everyone’s got a history. You can never be too sure who you’re dealing with, so get background information on prospective buyers. Most CS offices should be able to provide this service and help you start a relationship founded on trust.

Networking Beats Working. Ask your local CS to search out industry-specific trade shows far and wide, and then get help making contacts with all the appropriate CS representatives of those countries. In-person networking beats cold-calling by phone every time.