Small Town Kentucky Woman-Owned Business STEPs into the Global Marketplace

May 19, 2021 | Uncategorized

Debra Dudley grew up planning to be a country music star, but fate had a different calling.  Her stardom came a little later in life as the 2017 Kentucky Small Business Person of the Year and the SBA National 1st-Runner-Up.

Debra’s small business is the biggest employer the town of Bonnieville in south central Kentucky, population 270, of which Debra employs 31, nearly 12 percent of the town! 

Oscarware is the family-owned manufacturing business founded in 1989 by Debra and her late husband Reg Dudley. Sensing the anything-can-be-grilled trend, they invented a new product they called “grill topper” making it possible to cook a variety of meals on an outdoor grill.  They are now the leading domestic manufacturer of both disposable and porcelain coated steel toppers in the U.S. 

Her business has continued to grow, even during the pandemic, thanks to success in markets such as Canada, Mexico, and the United Kingdom. 

Oscarware’s international trade journey really began in 2014 when they were invited to participate in the Governor’s Trade Mission to the United Kingdom.  That mission opened their eyes to their global sales potential.  Debra leveraged her business relationship with Walmart to begin a conversation with the UK’s version of Walmart, ASDA, during that mission, and the rest is history. 

The real key though that launched her success was the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) grant which reimbursed a significant portion of their travel costs.  Without STEP, she would not have participated in that mission.  Administered by SBA, STEP provides financial awards to state and territory governments to assist small businesses with export development. 

Debra has tapped into STEP every year since to support such things as compliance audits, packaging modifications, product testing, and shipping of samples to prospective foreign clients.

As the COVID crisis has reduced the opportunity for travel STEP has responded by increasing limits for supporting website globalization and e-commerce capabilities, up from $3,000 pre-COVID to $10,000 now.  

Debra is currently looking into utilizing STEP funds to update her website to facilitate virtual overseas business as Oscarware continues to deal with the challenge of COVID.

While they have had to make production adjustments to facilitate social distancing and a safe workplace, business has actually been up as more people are cooking from home.  Who doesn’t like to throw something on the grill?

Oscarware is looking to take advantage of this trend and of seasonality by beginning to explore opportunities in the Southern Hemisphere, possibly through Gold Key or virtual matchmaking services from the U.S. & Foreign Commercial Service for markets such as Australia, Chile, or Argentina.  These services are also eligible for STEP reimbursement.

Debra praises her great team for her success, “We’re just AWESOME!”  But she also acknowledges that “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for others passionate about helping small businesses.  Sometimes you need to ask for help.  Resources are out there.”

For an encore celebration of Women’s History Month, SBA’s Office of International Trade featured women-owned businesses that have achieved global market success.  Hear about their international journey, including programs and services they tapped into for global market success.  Click here to listen to the recording.

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