Bulldog’s Simon Duffy: “Thinking long and hard about exports is vital”

With Organic Monkey going well, thoughts are now turning to overseas expansion

Earlier this year Growing Business Magazine asked me to take part in a competition offering mentoring to an up-and-coming business. The competition winner was Organic Monkey which sells organic and Fairtrade skincare products for babies and toddlers. Please take a look at organicmonkey.co.uk for more information.

After three meetings working together, I feel like we have made good progress. I met with Heidi and Claudine at Bulldog’s London office, and it was heartening to learn about the recent improvements made to Organic Monkey’s packaging, website and business planning. Following a discussion on various sourcing and pricing strategies for some upcoming meetings with manufacturing partners, we decided to spend the majority of our time talking through the world of export.

It can be a very flattering experience when foreign companies get in touch and share their plans to launch your brand in their market. Since our last meeting, Organic Monkey have had several of these enquiries from would-be export partners, from whom they have prioritised two opportunities for further consideration following initial communications. One of these is from Europe and the other is from Asia.

Irrespective of whether you’re just starting up or dominating the FTSE 100, it’s vital that enough time is spent thinking through the role export can best play for your business. Having a good strategy here will bring clarity to the decision-making process about which opportunities to pursue, and help to inform how best to structure these working relationships.

In Bulldog’s experience, export has become a key part of our business strategy. Sweden was our first overseas market following our February 2010 launch, and today you will also find our products in Norway, Finland, Germany and America. We’ve enjoyed some great success, for example winning brand of the year and product of the year in Sweden’s top two male style magazines Café and King.

Establishing an export business is not all plain sailing however. While I am by nature an optimist, I wanted to make the point that export is not something to be rushed into. New export clients could potentially add new complexity to Organic Monkey’s existing packaging and supply chain. For example, different countries can and will have different technical and legal frameworks for skincare products, and based on the fact that Organic Monkey works in the baby market, they should anticipate stringent local requirements that they will need to satisfy.

Organic Monkey has already decided that its export model will be to collaborate with local experts rather than establish its own office and direct sales teams. This makes perfect sense for a variety of obvious reasons. As with every relationships, mutual respect and understanding will be key with any new partners. We talked through what this would mean in terms of selecting the right partners and establishing the basis of a sound working relationship that would best fit with Organic Monkey’s current business goals.

It will be important in the coming weeks for Heidi and Claudine to put this into action. In addition to defining important details around things like payment currency and terms, intellectual property protection, and possible insurance implications; they will also have to spend time ensuring that both parties are comfortable with sharing the various tasks connected with local compliance, logistics, sales and marketing. There is a lot to do between initial conversations and that amazing moment when you first see your brand on the shelf of a foreign retailer.

Last but by no means least, there are two important things that every new exporter should make sure they do: get proper professional legal advice when it comes to putting a contract in place; and make an appointment with their local UKTI advisor who will be able to unlock a valuable network of experts and provide access to various grants and subsidies.

Heidi and Claudine are a talented and determined team and I’m not surprised that their range of products is attracting so much interest from overseas. I wish them all the best over this exciting next period in their business development.

Simon Duffy is the co-founder of £2.4m turnover male grooming brand Bulldog, which successfully exports its natural skincare range to Scandinavia and the US. www.meetthebulldog.com

The Growing Business mentoring scheme launched earlier this year.

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