5 quick tips for expanding abroad

ONE MINUTE BRIEFING: Mark James, Group MD of drinks company Global Brands, explains what the company learned entering nearly 60 international markets.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 18 Dec 2018

Unless you’re starting a business in America or China, achieving serious scale is difficult if you’re not willing to look beyond your own borders. The most ambitious British firms know that if they want to keep growing, they’ll need to break into international markets.

Chesterfield-based Global Brands sells its portfolio of drinks, including VK vodka, Amigos tequila and the alcopop Hooch, in 59 markets from Latvia to Malaysia to Cameroon. Group MD Mark James distils the key lessons they learned along the way.


1. Think local

"Don’t start by thinking ‘global’ during production or development of a service. Instead, begin by thinking ‘local’, embracing what makes Britain unique. The UK’s long heritage of innovation and quality gives British businesses an edge. It can set them apart in commoditised markets and help command premium prices for premium goods.

2. Find the right people

"Don’t make the mistake of trying to enter a new foreign market without on-the-ground knowledge and support. You might have the best product and service, but it might need some slight tweaks to fit locally. Likewise, it’s hugely important to fully know what’s happening in local markets and to understand trading cultures. This is key to knowing who to deal with, when and how.

"Businesses can either build local teams from the ground-up or find new partners. Forming distribution partnerships has proved massively effective for us. We’ve taken the time to find like-minded companies led by people who share our ethos and values. This has provided us with a local presence in many different countries that appropriately translates our brand and opens-up the best sales channels.

3. Don’t rush in

"It’s all too easy to be seduced by stories of booming market economies. Don’t be blinded by a gold rush. Research the market, completing proper political, economic, social and technological due diligence. Pinpoint the existing competition and get a good grasp on the history of the market from the past few years. How new will your product or service be? Have market entrants tried before? Did they get it right or wrong, and why?

4. Be willing to say no

"Be bold enough to walk away from the export opportunity if it’s not right or move it down the list of priorities. This proved an effective approach for us. We tiered target markets as platinum, gold and silver. Export launches were strategically planned according to the commercial opportunity and what investment was required of us to realise the potential.

"It’s an approach that enabled us to grow export volumes of our premium range of soft drinks, tonics and mixers Franklin & Sons by 100 per cent in the 12 months until the end of June 2018.

5. Don’t stop innovating

"Creativity is often one of the first victims of uncertainty. It’s the old ‘stick to what you know’ mentality aimed at trying to reduce risks and costs amid concerns about sales or future trade agreements. This approach just doesn’t cut it. You only have to look at what commonly characterises the world’s fastest-growing businesses and so-called unicorns; it’s disruption. Similarly, emerging markets thrive on people doing things differently."


For more information

Read these hard earned tips from an SME for expanding abroad, or look at how WeWork has approached it. Alternatively, here’s a guide for securing finance for international expansion.

Image credit: Pixabay/Pexels

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