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Social media can drive export sales, LI exec says

Raja Kaul of Amityville-based Sundial Brands speaks in

Raja Kaul of Amityville-based Sundial Brands speaks in Old Westbury on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, about his company's growth overseas. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Endorsements, reviews and even “likes” by U.S. customers on social media such as Facebook and Twitter can help to open foreign markets to local exporters, a top executive told a business audience this week.

An enthusiastic customer base domestically has helped Sundial Brands LLC begin selling its beauty products in seven countries this year. Previously, the Amityville-based company only supplied markets in the United States and United Kingdom.

Chief operating officer Raja Kaul said Sundial had little choice but to quickly ramp up its exports to meet international demand, much of it stemming from comments on social media.

“Our consumers are big supporters and advocates. . . . This has been true especially on social media,” he told about 100 people at an exporting event Tuesday on the Old Westbury campus of New York Institute of Technology. “Our consumers have been in the forefront of seeding international markets for us.”

Kaul was the keynote speaker for the half-day workshop organized by the Long Island office of the U.S. Commercial Service, a unit of the U.S. Commerce Department.

Sundial is among a growing number of local manufacturers selling products in other countries. Long Island businesses exported $9.8 billion in goods in 2015, a 53 percent increase from 2005, according to the latest available data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Sundial’s domestic customers have been sending its SheaMoisture and Nubian Heritage hair care and skin care products to friends and relatives overseas. International visitors have filled suitcases with the products for use upon their return home, Kaul said.

These activities have spurred foreign retailers in South Africa, Kenya and elsewhere to order the products. “We call this global pull,” Kaul said.

Sundial was founded in New York State, but it has its roots in Sierra Leone and Liberia. CEO Richelieu Dennis initially started the business with his mother, Mary, and college roommate, Nyema Tubman, to provide beauty products made from natural ingredients to African-American women.

Sundial now employs about 300 people at facilities in Amityville and Farmingdale. In 2015 the private equity firm Bain Capital LLC purchased a minority stake in the family-owned company for an undisclosed amount.

The investment has helped fuel Sundial’s expansion at home and abroad.

Kaul credited the company’s entry into Kenya to assistance from the U.S. Commercial Service. He said the service’s Long Island director, Susan Sadocha, helped arrange a trip to Kenya in April. Sundial secured a distributor and began selling there last month.

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