New Brunswick’s Lizotte Machine Vision has been in business since 1985. A family-run operation, the company consists of two partners, Marcel Lizotte, President, and his son Steve, Vice President.
The Lizottes focus on custom-built quality control and grading equipment for the seafood industry. Lizotte’s machines are able to sort and grade seafood products by size, colour, shape, external defects, and internal defects visible only through the use of x-ray technology.
Though the company has clients in New Brunswick, most of its business is in export. Steve Lizotte says the company now has machines in Nova Scotia, Quebec, Newfoundland, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Australia as well as several locations in the United States and Europe.
Steve returned to New Brunswick in 2012 after spending five years working in Nunavut’s public sector. “I wanted to gain some professional and life experience, so I went to work in Nunavut. What brought me back to New Brunswick was family, specifically the family business,” he says.
ONB spoke with Steve Lizotte to learn more about the company’s export success, and life in New Brunswick.
ONB: As Business Development Manager you frequently travel for work; to South America and Europe for example. What’s your best advice for other NB exporters looking to do business outside this region?
Lizotte: Leverage the services of the Canadian embassies in every country you’re travelling to. I’m able to gather a ton of useful information from each of those embassies and their staffers are extremely helpful. Embassy staff will often come with me to act as translators during meetings. Embassies can even help with things like marketing by providing you with a slew of contact information on local agencies. That’s huge as they know the local market much better than you will.
Do your research and be ready before you go anywhere. Know if that market even needs your product before you waste time on travel. Know any and all regulations in that target market as well. We export expensive technology and machinery that is custom-built. Every country has different rules and regulations on that type of thing, and different certifications that need to be considered. Be certain you’ve read up on all of that stuff. It also definitely pays to get familiar with the culture of the region, and with any common terms used in the region’s native language.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced getting to this point?
We’ve realized how important it is to keep an up-to-date website. When you’re dealing with a global market, that’s the first impression many of your potential clients will have. Making sure your website is updated, easily navigable, and has plenty of good imagery is essential. That’s been a challenge but we think the site looks pretty good now.
The biggest challenge for us though has simply been language barriers. In our case, it’s a real challenge because we have some fairly state-of-the-art technology, and it’s difficult to find local representatives that can sell our products. All of our machines are custom-built so it often needs to be marketed and sold by us directly since we are the ones that know it inside out. You just push through it though. You find capable translators, work with those embassies, and learn what you can of the language.
What is Lizotte’s relationship like with ONB?
We’ve developed a strong partnership with ONB. We’ve received a lot of support from your Business Development reps in terms of helping us find niche markets, and with finding ways to better invest in marketing by pinpointing the most vital trade shows and missions to attend. Trade shows are something we’re increasingly focused on; we try to get to as many as possible. In the past, we were attending maybe one per year. Working more closely with ONB we’re now aiming for three or four shows per year.
There are a lot of trade shows in the food sector.
Absolutely, and some are fairly expensive to attend. It’s essential for potential clients to see the actual machinery, so we need to exhibit at these shows, not just attend to walk the floor. We always make it to the Boston Seafood Show since many of our top competitors go every year. It’s important for us to have a consistent presence.
What do you see as advantages of operating from New Brunswick?
For us it’s all about the quality of life; I believe it’s just better here than in the bigger centres like Montreal. Yes, it might be easier to recruit professional engineers and machine specialists in a larger market, but we’ve had no problems in New Brunswick on that end. The way of life in New Brunswick is enough to keep us home and be proud of doing business here. Rivière-Verte, where our offices are located, is a very small town. We’ve been here for 30 years now and it’s important to us to expand here, to support the local economy, and bring professional well-paying jobs to the province. We want to play a role in bringing people back to New Brunswick, that’s a big part of our vision.
Right now the focus is on continued growth. We’ve doubled our headcount over the past year; we were at seven and now we’re at 16. We’re expanding the business and building a new facility in Rivière-Verte and we’re very proud of that. As I said, we’re trying to create good professional jobs here to bring people back to the province, and to bring students who are studying in Fredericton or Moncton back to the Edmundston region.
On the product front, we have an exciting new machine we exhibited at the Boston Seafood Show this year and it’s being shipped to a client in Australia; it’s exciting to send product to the opposite side of the world. We’ve come a long way. We have significant American seafood processors as clients now and we have more exciting stuff coming up with them in the near future involving some very big machines. The future looks bright!
Cover image: Lizotte Machine Vision