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Exporting as a dynamic process: a study of New Zealand specialist food exporters

The object of this study was to understand the export process by conducting case study research among New Zealand specialist food exporters. Past export research has used quantitative approaches to determine the influence of firm and environmental variables on quantitative measures of superior export performance. This approach has suggested that export processes are static and unidirectional; conceptualisations which contrast with the dynamic change that is apparent in firm export activities seen through export experience or even casual observation. It was in an effort to understand this changing export process that this study was undertaken. Among the firm factors identified as influencing superior export performance are the perceptions of firm management. These perceptions change over time and those of export performance are specifically noted as influencing management perceptions. This study draws on these concepts of management perceptions and the role of strategy in the export process to ask “in which ways does export performance influence the export strategy process?” As a basis to frame and advance the study, the findings of past export research and its allusion to the role of performance perceptions were used to develop a research model. The research question suggested an approach that would allow the researcher to get close to the research context; this was achieved using a methodology of phenomenology. To implement this research approach, case study, in a multiple case design, was used to gain insight into the perceptions of informants. The study was further facilitated by using the dynamic context provided by New Zealand specialist food exporters, from which eight case firms were selected using export and business criteria. Interviews with management were the principal source of evidence. Evidence gathering was carried out concurrently with the analysis of evidence. This allowed earlier informant evidence to inform subsequent evidence gathering. Analysis used a variety of instruments to increase focus in case data, providing a basis for the development of the study’s findings. Consistency across cases in field work and analysis was underwritten by the use of a case study protocol and specialised computer software to maintain a case study data base. Informant evidence indicated that export practitioners in case firms had a wider perception of export performance than past export research had suggested. These perceptions derive from streams of indicators of performance and contextual situations arising from export activities. The management perceptions that these indicators engender are applied in firm export strategy processes. While the focus on export activity indicators varies according to firm organisational structure, the use of a range of indicators was a feature of all firms in the study. These flows of indicator information and the perceptions and changes that they generated were part of a dynamic cycle of export activities. This process saw firm export strategy continuously reviewed, reformulated and implemented as it was adapted to address perceived changes in firm performance and context. These findings lead to the development of a conceptual model of a dynamic export process across case firms. The dynamic export process identified in this study is a significant extension of past static cross-sectional conceptualisations of the export process. It suggests that export practitioners draw upon a wide range of export activity indicators to build perceptions of export outcomes and their export context. These perceptions inform and influence future export strategy and in turn, future export outcomes. This contribution to export research provides an understanding of the dynamic export process that is close to the reality of export practitioners. This understanding allows researchers, exporting firms and policy makers to conceptualise the export process in terms that are close to actual export practice. In addition, these exploratory findings of a dynamic export process provide a platform for further research to consider the application of this conceptualisation across exporting firms as a whole.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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