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Life Lessons for Exporters

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Surrette Battery Company Ltd  is one of North America’s leading lead-acid battery manufacturers. Located in Springhill Nova Scotia, the family-owned business is successfully growing its international reach and relevance. But the path to success is never smooth or guaranteed, asserts Surrette Battery president James Surrette. From day one he’s been traveling a bumpy road of life lessons – a long route of rights, wrongs, and reality checks.

“It’s not an obvious success story, surviving 55 years and two generations in a battery business based in rural Nova Scotia,” James says. “There are definitely things I wish I’d known and mistakes we could have avoided along the way.”

Established in 1935, with a production facility in Salem, Massachusetts, Surrette Battery relocated to Springhill in 1959. James Surrette and his brother J.D. purchased the company in full from their father in 2003. Along the way, James has learned that there are some key advantages to operating the business from Nova Scotia. One of those is the people.

“Our employees are dedicated, loyal, individuals who work hard at and are proud of what they produce,” says James. The average employment term at Surrette Battery is 20-22 years, which means the company can operate with a low level of supervision; low turnover means minimal retraining costs.

Since much of Surrette’s market is overseas, access to the Port of Halifax is another key advantage. It allows product to be shipped efficiently. In that respect, geography gives Nova Scotia a distinct advantage over other parts of Canada. And James has learned that “Canada Sells”. Canadian products have a reputation around the globe for being high quality, clean, and made with pride. James regrets that more Canadian exporters don’t recognize this or promote it nearly well enough in and outside our own country.

Regardless of where a business is based, James has learned that success involves a certain amount of risk and there will always be setbacks along the way. He feels strongly that the Ivany report (Now or Never: An Urgent Call to Action for Nova Scotians) presents a roadmap for strong and sustainable economic development in Nova Scotia.

Surrette shared his lessons learned with fellow exporters as the keynote speaker for the 2014 Nova Scotia Export Achievements Awards.

“You can’t be prepared for everything – hiccups happen. If you have the opportunity, to match up to the market opportunity you see with a trade mission – do it; don’t hesitate. It’s exporting with training wheels.”

Surrette Battery is a client of NSBI Trade Development and Business Financing.

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