Le Mark produces self-adhesive, custom-printed tapes and labels for dance-floors. They have developed personal protection equipment, including gloves and accessories, for use by theatre companies, production teams and event organisations. Based in Houghton, Cambridgeshire, Le Mark was established in 1982.
An experienced exporter, Le Mark first began selling overseas more than 25 years ago. Their involvement with UKTI has spanned many years: they enjoyed the support of the Passport to Export scheme in 2005 and met Steve Exon, an experienced Export Consultant, on their Passport to Export workshop. Steve subsequently joined the business to continue to strengthen export development.
It was Steve who introduced Le Mark to the Export Marketing Research Scheme (EMRS). The EMRS is a UKTI Scheme providing professional advice and funding to help businesses understand the dynamics of a potential overseas market before creating an appropriate strategy for launching in this market and there is a nationwide team of professional Research Advisers to support individual companies.
Le Mark had not been proactive in the US market but had received a few speculative enquiries and, when they learnt, from an ad hoc conversation with a US contact, that several distributors were already holding their stock, they decided it was time to investigate!
Steve and Matt Every, Le Mark’s Head of Export, met with Alice Mamier, Research Advisor for the East of England, who helped him to structure the research plan. They decided to focus on the Dirty Rigger brand, a range of gloves, work-wear and accessories created to be used by riggers in the theatre and production industries. The key decisions Le Mark would need to make as a result of the research were: would the brand be appropriate for the US audience, what products within the range should be promoted to whom, what would be the optimum route to market (through distributors or agents, if so what type of distributors or agents would be required), would they need to change their offering for the different US states and, last but not least, would their premium pricing structure be appropriate for the market?
Matt travelled to the US in March 2013 and spent 10 days in Minneapolis, Milwaukee and LA. During this time he undertook 24 interviews with riggers, site managers, retailers, distributors and agents and then spent a day learning about the industry with a visit to the USITT (the United States Institute for Theatre Technology) exhibition in Milwaukee.
"The research has enabled us to turn our thoughts into proper facts, allowing us to make concrete plans instead of just guessing, and the grant has made this a really cost effective investment"
Steve Exon, Le Mark
The results were most enlightening. There was clearly a market need for Le Mark’s premium work wear gloves and accessories in the Arts and Entertainment sector alone. The findings also indicated an opportunity for many of Le Mark’s other product ranges. Matt was delighted that the Dirty Rigger name and logo were well received, "We knew US individuals sometimes have higher sensitivities to such images, but we were pleasantly surprised that they really liked our Brit-Brand ‘scratching man’!" However, whilst the branding was liked, it became apparent that the size and shape of some of the supporting literature would need to be changed from UK A4 to US letter.
The importance of a wide range of distributors to support each sector within each region became obvious, indeed Matt realised they might need to appoint a locally-based person to manage this team of distributors in the future. There were some interesting differences between the regions influencing which product ranges would be most appropriate, as Matt explained, "When they’re working outside in the Mid-West it’s really hot: they need gloves designed to keep hands cool, so our Venta-Cool gloves would be ideal. In the cooler regions, we should promote our thermal gloves, especially on some of the outdoor projects!"
In the few months since the research trip, Le Mark has made some significant changes to support their US business development. One of the key research findings highlighted the importance of business relationships in the US: rather than seeing a company representative once a year, on-going contact was considered to be vital. Therefore, the Manager for the Dirty Rigger brand has changed his working schedule, staying late on a Thursday and working through a roster of distributors, potential distributors and end users, talking with them on the phone and helping them to develop their accounts and encouraging them to put stock on their shelves. Key exhibitions are being selected, and the process of recruiting additional appropriate distributors to cover each sector is underway. "We’ve changed our focus from the US just being an opportunity ‘floating in the background’ to being a prime focus for us," explained Steve.
"We’re the biggest fans of EMRS!" exclaimed Steve. "The research has enabled us to turn our thoughts into proper facts, allowing us to make concrete plans instead of just guessing, and the grant has made this a really cost effective investment"