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Conversation with SBA’s 2017 Exporter of the Year

Conversation with SBA’s 2017 Exporter of the Year

By Peter J. Cazamias, SBA Official
Published: September 22, 2017 Updated: September 25, 2017

Rose Morris is the ‘mompreneur’ behind The Safety Sleeper™, the winner of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) 2017 Exporter of the Year Award. Creating the product out of personal necessity in 2009, Morris’ business has since grown year over year, hitting the $1 million sales mark in 2016.

When Morris’ middle son, Abram, was a toddler, he had difficulty maintaining a regular sleep cycle because of his autism diagnosis. Worried about the health and safety of her young child, Morris developed a lightweight tent-like structure that is placed on top of the bed, which includes padding and an air mattress.

Over the years, Morris made myriad improvements to increase the quality and durability of her product, including an extra safety zipper system, fire retardant material, and stabilizing straps to prevent tipping. She did this in part due classes and counsesling from her local SCORE Pittsburgh Chapter, the Duquesne University Small Business Development Center, and Chatham University’s Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship. Morris also conducted additional research by speaking with other parents and learning about different sleep disorders.

Almost a decade after starting her business, Morris has expanded beyond our borders to include sales to 12 different countries around the world. Recently, the SBA’s Office of International Trade had an opportunity to speak with Morris and dive deeper into her expansion into the global marketplace.  

The conversation has been edited and condensed.

SBA: Describe the circumstances that caused you to go global? What prompted to you begin selling abroad?

Rose Morris: It all began because of a call from a father in Europe. He said ‘I saw your product online, can you ship it to England?’ Since I don’t have ‘no’ in my vocabulary, I said ‘yes’ and then set out to figure out how. I reached out to my original manufacturer and asked if it could be done. He did some research and paperwork on it. Despite the product being held up in customs, we were able to complete the shipment successfully. Shortly thereafter, I received a similar phone call from a parent in Ireland. That’s really how we began to sell abroad.

At the start, did you have an exporting plan?

No, we did not have an official international business plan at the beginning. But we learned a lot as we went through the process. For example, we learned you can be refunded the VAT (value added tax) in areas in Europe by completing the right paperwork.

So how did you go about creating the plan?

About 3 or 4 years into the business, I was introduced to a SCORE mentor by a member of my women’s bible group. I ended up having 2 mentors there and learned as much as I could from them. They helped as I developed my business plan and grew my company.

Did you focus on specific countries or geographic areas when selling abroad?

No, I did not. However, I did notice that of the 12 countries we currently sell to, they tend to be a bit more established countries in terms of medical billing and nonprofits. We work a lot with groups related to sleep diagnoses to see if and how the product can be covered by insurance. We always focus on the customers first, and worry about the funding after.

What was the toughest challenge related to exporting that you had to overcome?

Paperwork was definitely a concern in the beginning. While we used UPS originally, the paperwork was the responsibility of our company. After we shifted to using an export management company and they took on the burdensome paperwork, we were able to free up time and resources to devote back to further developing the product.

What advice do you have for small business owners considering selling abroad?

Trust your gut, and definitely trust your intuition!

To learn more about the counseling, training, and financial tools available to help your small business sell abroad and to find the offices located closest to you, visit: www.SBA.gov/local-assistance.

About the Author:

Peter J. Cazamias
Peter J. Cazamias

SBA Official

Peter J. Cazamias serves as the Associate Administrator for SBA's Office of International Trade.