One-on-One with Randy Smallbone
Randy is the CEO of Smallbone Consulting, specializing in strategic planning, business advisory, and financial restructuring.
In addition, he is a Board Member of the Burlington Chamber of Commerce, Board Member of the Burlington Economic Development Corporation Inc., Board Member and Chairman of the Audit Committee of TSX listed Hanwei Energy Services Inc., Advisory Board Member of Pneu-Hyd Industries Ltd and a Board Member of the National Youth Orchestra of Canada.
How has your past experience prepared you for your current role?
I’ve been the CFO of 3 public companies. I also have first-hand knowledge with startups as well. My experience as CFO at Migao Corporation gave me quite a bit of experience in doing work with China and I was over there every six weeks. They had 7 factories over there and I was constantly traveling back and forth, which really taught me about doing business in China. I was also the CFO of Hanwei Energy services- they have factories in China as well. I’ve also done quite a bit of consulting for SMEs as well.
How is Astron Connect helping SME owners grow their business?
What we offer to businesses in the Canadian food and beverage industry is access to China and emerging markets. We connect quality buyers, and our goal is to help suppliers. We offer marketing support, logistics support, and getting through all the hurdles of China customs and all those sorts of things.
What are some of the initiatives and projects you’re hoping to accomplish as CEO and President of Astron Connect?
Astron has been operating for about a year and a half. Our goal is to introduce pure, authentic, innovative brands to the China markets. We’ve worked with Tomahawk Potato Chips, owned by native Canadians. We’ve worked on the saltiness element because of different tastes in China.
We’re working on perfecting the formula to accommodate the different palate of the Chinese population compared to Canada. Another project we’ve worked on is co-branding with Dutchman’s Gold- they produce different tastes of honey.
In your opinion, why do you believe that SME owners often consider the United States when it comes to expanding their operations and distribution?
Certainly, the US market is easy to access for Canadian SME owners. It’s south of the border, the same language. But they often don’t realize that there’s a lot of competition in the US. Times have changed with current politics and there’s a lot more competition than there used to be in the US. There’s a huge demand in China and emerging markets. I encourage customers to not just look south of the border but look elsewhere too!
Canadian food brands have been in high demand recently. What do you believe is the cause of that and how do you believe this will impact Canadian SMEs?
Certainly, China and emerging markets have had issues with food safety. The quality control often isn’t there. And there’s a lot of knockoffs in China. There is an excellent perception of Canadian products in China. When the Chinese market thinks of Canada, they think of a safe, reliable market. They love Vancouver and that’s had an effect on the perception of food. The middle class is growing in China and they want good products and want to eat great food.
How does Astron work with Canadian food and beverage companies to help export their products to China and emerging markets?
We like to encourage companies and we have the ability to sell products that are co-branded. If you think of Chinese individuals coming to BC, they often want to take those products back home.
The team that we’ve assembled at Astron has an amazing experience working with China. They have experience in import/export and have connections through various channels in China, that they have developed on their own through previous work experience. We have an amazing team in Vancouver, that is very passionate about achieving our goals here at Astron.
What is the main goal of Astron Connect? What are you hoping to accomplish?
Connecting Canadian food and beverage suppliers with qualified buyers in China and emerging markets, and help other SMEs grow their products. We’re happy to help with strategic planning and step in, even if that’s not our core offering. Our main goal is to help Canadian companies. In the food and beverage industry, there’s a lot of SMEs that have a great formula and product, but just don’t know how to take it to the next step and that’s where we come in.
What is the best advice that you can give to Canadian SMEs who are looking for growth and expansion opportunities?
Be bold! Don’t just look south of the border. There’s a larger market on the other side of the world. Don’t be afraid to go to the other side of the world. The first time I went to China was in 1994 and it has changed dramatically since then! The infrastructure is there and the growth of the economy has been incredible. Every 5 years it’s changing unbelievably. I urge everybody to go visit China. It is such an interesting country!
On a final note, where do you see Astron Connect 10 years from now? What does the future look like for the company?
I think the future looks great at Astron Connect. China is a growing, expanding economy. I would like to see Astron continue working with quality, innovative brands. Astron is the plural of the Greek word for star. Part of the mission is to help stars grow bright. I see Astron seeing great growth as a public company moving forward. I love helping small companies realize their true potential. I’m really excited about being the CEO and President, and the future for Astron.