MU Extension helps company develop international markets

When Harley-Davidson domestic sales began to slow to an idle, employees of RK Stratman Inc. of Wentzville knew they had to rev things up. They turned to the University of Missouri Extension for help.

Stratman, one of the original 12 Harley licensees, produces more than 4 million T-shirts annually for the motorcycle giant’s dealers. With the help of specialists from MU Extension’s Small Business and Technology Development Centers (SBTDC), the company has been able to roll into the growing international market.

“According to the Small Business Administration, 97 percent of all U.S. exporters are small businesses, and 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside the United States,” said Larry Dill, state director of international trade for Missouri’s SBTDCs. “This represents an enormous opportunity for small firms.”

Dill and SBTDC specialist Jackie Rasmussen of Camden County have worked with the Stratman staff and SBTDC partners, including the U.S. Department of Commerce, SBA export programs and the Missouri Department of Economic Development (DED).

Rasmussen and Dill steered the company into MO STEP=UP, an SBA-funded program administered by the DED’s International Trade and Investment Office that helps defray the costs of foreign sales trips, trade shows, translation services and other exporting expenditures. That was something in which Stratman could see immediate benefit.

“It’s been a huge eye-opener,” said Art Gompper, sales and marketing manager for RK Stratman. Company sales reps recently completed a trip to a Barcelona trade show, followed by visits to Harley dealers in the U.K., Ireland, Switzerland and Germany.

photo: Stratman group
Art Gompper of RK Stratman, Jackie Rasmussen of SBDTC, Melissa Rosenthal of RK Stratman, and Larry Dill of SBDTC, worked together to help the Wentzville company expand into international markets. Photo by Megan Johnson.

photo: packages
Harley-Davidson T-shirts made in the U.S. are headed for Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, showing the diversity of the international markets served by RK Stratman Inc. of Wentzville. Photo by Megan Johnson.

“It’s proven to be very expensive to get out there to trade shows internationally, meet new dealers and make contacts,” Gompper says.

By developing overseas markets, however, the Wentzville plant has been able to avoid layoffs and has even needed to hire contract employees during peak times. Gompper said seasonal climate differences in countries where their T-shirts are sold allow the company to distribute its work more evenly. “There’s really no down time,” he said.

“MU Extension has put us in touch with many valuable and reliable resources,” said Melissa Rosenthal, international sales leader. “They have allowed us to expand our reach.”

The Wentzville firm was founded in the 1960s by Ron Stratman, who still rides his Harley to work five days a week. The company now operates two shifts with 250 employees in a sprawling 305,000-square-foot facility that includes an art design division, screen-printing, shipping, sales and marketing.

Stratman is known for riding a customized 1980 FLT wrapped in buffalo hide. The “Buffalo Bike” is a staple of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The company is still family-owned, with Stratman’s wife and children playing key roles in the business.

With Harley-Davidson celebrating its 110th anniversary this year and international markets continuing to grow, the Wentzville apparel manufacturer is kickstands-up and cracking the throttle.

Video of this news release:

photo: Stratman shop
Octopus-armed equipment at RK Stratman streamlines application of custom-designed artwork to T-shirts. A recent investment in energy-efficient lighting reduces utility costs while improving quality control through better visibility on the shop floor. Photo by Megan Johnson.















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