Helen Exley Giftbooks has a strong company ethos: the mission of the business is to make a change in as many people’s lives as possible. "Our aim is to help families to communicate, to find the words which they can use to express their love for those who are close to them" says Helen Exley who, with her husband Richard, started the business over 30 years ago. Subsequently expanded by their sons, Lincoln and Dalton, the company employs 36 people in the vicinity of Watford.
Since its inception, the company has enjoyed considerable success: the Giftbooks have sold four million copies a year, in over thirty languages, and in over eighty countries across the world; with over 60% of all sales from overseas. Regardless of these accomplishments, Helen Exley Giftbooks had never truly succeeded in breaking into the Japanese market, despite many years of trying.
Market dynamics and market entry
Carmel McKean, UKTI’s International Trade Advisor, was keen to help Helen Exley to enjoy the success due to them in the Japanese market, and suggested they find out more about the dynamics of this market: who were the target customers, what type of partnership could best reach the market and merchandise the Giftbooks, what would be the optimal route to market, how could they better understand the Japanese culture in relation to gifts and giving?
To support Helen Exley Giftbooks in undertaking this market research, Carmel recommended the Export Marketing Research Scheme (EMRS), a UKTI scheme to help businesses understand the dynamics of a potential overseas market before creating the optimal strategy for launching in this market.
Making a plan
Alice Mamier, the Research Advisor for the region, met with Keith Allen-Jones, Helen Exley Giftbooks’ Foreign Rights Director, at their offices in Watford. During this meeting, Alice helped Keith to put together a marketing research plan to help Helen Exley explore the dynamics of the Japanese market. Alice continued to work with Keith, showing him where he could find information, and helping him to pinpoint the sort of people with whom he should meet in Japan, to understand how best to enter the market. Keith explains, "It really helped us to take the first step; Alice pointed us in the right direction, which was easier than finding these things out alone."
The next step was for Keith to execute his research plan and visit the Japanese market. Armed with comprehensive background research about the gift market in Japan, and an itinerary of pre-booked interviews with relevant Japanese people, Keith was able to interview 17 people during his 5 day visit. The meetings with buyers, retail outlets, publishers, and stationery and gift companies were booked using the Overseas Market Information Service (OMIS) through Carmel McKean, International Trade Advisor. Again, Keith found the preparation of his visit invaluable – "a good plan equals good results" he states. "I would advise anybody thinking of launching into a new market to do your research and prepare meetings beforehand."
When back in the UK, Keith consolidated his findings into a report, an exercise which he found most useful, "The report stands as something you can look back on, and also help you to plan your strategy going forward"
As a result of the marketing research and the report, Helen Exley Giftbooks was able to make well informed decisions to support their entry into the Japanese market. The research identified two discrete markets for the Giftbooks in Japan: book stores, and the important, but diverse, Japanese retail market; choosing a partner with the ability to service both markets was vital. In addition, the knowledge they gained about the importance of gifting in the Japanese culture ensured they were able to create the most effective merchandise support, communicating that the books were gifts, and being sufficiently compact to work in the small space. Acting on these decisions gave Helen Exley’s giftbooks a true helping hand in the complex Japanese market.
Helen Exley’s Giftbooks hit the shelves for the gift selling season in November 2011 and are now in 500 giftshops and bookshops. Keith Allen-Jones was glowing in his support for the Export Marketing Research Scheme, "Thank you for your support. I doubt we would have got there without you. The Japanese market is very difficult to crack, and with your support, UKTI’s help, and a bit of luck, we got there!"