Sarah Carroll is the director of Grow Global, a consultancy that mentors and trains clients on how to improve their international communications, and one of the UK’s leading experts on how to make a web site visible in international search engines.
If you are looking to get wide exposure for your brand and products, it may be worth considering making your products available through well-known retailers or specialist stockists in towns and cities across the world. It may seem obvious, but when it comes to selling your stuff, sometimes the obvious places are the best.
Think it through
As product creators, designers and sellers, most of us have probably visited websites or walked into shops and thought ‘I’d love to see my products on sale here’. But rather than going for a knee-jerk reaction, it is critical to take some time to research which countries have demand for your products and where they may be popular. Are your products going to do better in France or China?
Next you need to think about what type of retailer your products would suit – so taking the example of France: should you sell them in a large department store (think Galaries Lafayette), a national supermarket chain (something like Carrefour) or in a small local stockist on the Rive Gauche. Again, do your research, and find out if your product fills a gap in their current offering, or if not, identify what sets your goods apart from the others they already stock.
Aim high and put these dream retailers at the top of your list – clearly securing a major multi-national retailer could spell significant global growth for your brand. However, equally a smaller retailer could be more aligned to your brand.
The Open to Export article on getting started in market research may be useful for those new to exporting.
Find out who to approach
Just as when you are applying for a new job and you research your employer, it is worth putting some time in before you approach your target retailers. Use the company website or LinkedIn if necessary to find the right person to contact. Buying teams are very busy and many are inundated with ideas for new products every day, so choose wisely to ensure you don’t waste your time – or theirs. Send them samples and consider putting together an ‘elevator pitch’ to explain why your product is suitable in as little time as possible to pique their interest (you might only get 15 minutes with them), and be sure to follow up with the retailer afterwards.
Get pitch perfect
If you have no previous experience in delivering pitches (we’ve all seen examples of this on Dragon’s Den), it may be worth having a few test runs with less strategically significant and smaller retailers. Take a look at your list – are there any retailers that would be ‘nice to have’, but it wouldn’t be too devastating if they said no? These could be a good place to start, where the stakes are lower. You will be able to put your pitching skills to the test, get a feel for what the market is currently looking for and you never know – you could get lucky and secure your first order.
Whether or not you accept an exclusivity contract is entirely up to you – is one high-value order worth more than several smaller ones from multiple retailers? Does the retailer offering exclusivity sell to all of your target markets? Are they likely to reorder? Or would you prefer to sell your products through many retailers selling to different audiences? Even if retailers don’t have a presence in certain markets, they may still ship to them (this often happens with companies in Germany shipping to neighbouring Austria and Switzerland to German speakers), so it is worth thoroughly researching their websites to see what sort of audience you could reach.
Work on the detail
Remember the selling process might be different in other countries, especially in the area of regulations and labelling for some products, so ask specialists so there are no surprises and you are prepared for any adaptations you may need to make. Build in time if you need to apply for certifications or prepare labelling, your pitch and supporting marketing materials in other languages. Equally, it is essential to know your rights when it comes to your intellectual property or any trademarks or design marks you might hold or need to apply for. Always seek legal advice before approaching any retailers to ensure your ideas and products are protected in a new country.
Selling to retailers can be a highly effective way to boost sales for global growth and build brand recognition in new territories, and through thorough preparation, you can ensure you are in the best possible position to sell to international audiences.