My businesses Blue Eyed Sun and Ivy Ellen sell to a mix of distributors and direct to stores around the world and have been very focussed on export growth over the last couple of years. Our beautiful British made cards sell in over a dozen countries worldwide including America, Australia, Japan and Europe as well as unusual and smaller markets like Iran, Singapore and Malta.
Here are some of the ways you can find new export opportunities:
Trade shows have been our primary source of new distributors for us. Particularly larger UK shows which are well attended by international buyers like Spring Fair International in Birmingham at the NEC in February. We always get at least one or two countries approaching our stand at these shows. Make sure your stand is well presented, you are prepared for approaches by distributors and you have a good marketing campaign in the trade press and show guides in tandem with exhibiting. The card industry is really friendly and I often find out about distributors by networking with other publishers at these events.
Many of these have global readership and as more and more are able to be read online any marketing you get in these can flag you up on distributors’ radars. You usually have to pay for ads, but editorial can often be free so make sure you send out press releases two months before your shows. We subscribe to trade magazines like Progressive Greetings as they are often full of international leads when you read them closely and they often write articles on international markets.
We are members of the Greeting Card Association and the Giftware Association, both of which include listings of Blue Eyed Sun on their websites which many new customers use to find us. These organisations are hubs where similar business looking for similar answers congregate. If you aren’t a member and aren’t listed, you won’t be found there. You can also discover new opportunities by networking at their events and in their forums online. Not only this but such forums can help flag up bad payers or risks that you may not be aware of when trading overseas.
We follow other card publishers, distributors and retailers in our categories around the world and are constantly adding new data to our database on ACT. We also engage with export leads on social media in a non-pushy way so that they are aware of us. For every country where we have distribution we have at least 2-3 alternatives who are in line to take over if things don’t work out with our current partners. Even if you are not ready to start exporting, you should start building your lists of contacts. This information is valuable and helps you build a picture of the international markets over time. We keep our list informed just before the major trade shows with a hard copy brochure and samples posted to them and an email campaign.
You can also get government support to help you export and attend shows worldwide. The UKTI are the department that can help with this and we have just started working with them to help us grow further. They can provide market analysis and help organise special events at their embassies abroad if you are looking to impress potential large clients. They also have lots of good contacts in these countries that can help safeguard your interests and grow your export business.
You can never start preparing for export too soon in my opinion. Most important is information gathering, which is valuable to you over time. My personal approach has been to focus on working with distributors who are coming to the UK shows to source new products as this tells me (in part) that they are big enough and hungry enough to offer greater potential to us than companies that might be resting on their laurels and not making the effort.
Generally, I feel I’d rather work with the salesman who is younger and hungrier and aiming to dominate their market than the one who is older and more established at the top. That way you can be part of their growth. Having said that, some markets can be locked up and the larger player is then the better option. Understanding your markets will help you to figure out which option is best to go with.
Remember to make sure that you are set up to handle the extra business, have the cash flow to handle the new business, assess the risks and are able to continue covering your UK business well during your expansion. Good luck!