Advice from three small businesses on expanding overseas
Brompton Bikes overseas expansion strategy “go, go, go”
Quickly becoming one of Britain’s great export success stories, the story of how West London folding bike maker Brompton went global is, it seems, serendipitous . Its first export market was built by the passion of people who bought the bike when they lived in London, according to CEO Will Butler-Adams, and then brought it – along with the lifestyle – home. This is how the company’s first overseas activities began in places like Holland and Germany.
When Butler-Adams took over Brompton in 2008, it was making 6,000 bikes a year. He said they would increase that to 25,000. “It was clear we couldn’t do this just in the UK,” he says. “We knew enough from the experience we had in the Netherlands and Germany that this bike that Andrew [Richie] had created was relevant to different cities. It wasn’t just a London story.
Armed with that insight, Butler-Adams flew off, visiting places he thought “this bike might do.” Don’t overthink it, he advises, don’t waste time on elaborate plans and strategies – just fly the economy and “go, go, go”. Talk to people, organize meetings. Listen. Then come back and if you still think it might work, invest some time and effort into coming up with a plan.
That’s, basically, what Brompton did around the world, building businesses with unique distributors operating in dozens of territories – people they believed were passionate about building the brand in every market. “The first phase was getting on a plane and traveling,” Butler-Adams explains.
The second phase consisted of bringing distribution in-house: “In the end, we wanted to grow faster than them. [the distributors] could.” So, from around 2005, Brompton began to buy out distributors and work directly with retailers in markets – a model now established in more than 16 territories, including Japan (“A real test for us” , says the CEO).
The company moved to mainland China in 2010 and now sells around 15,000 bikes there today, through a franchise partner, in part to reduce investment costs. In the United States, Brompton uses its own network of stores. In Germany, the company works with the existing distribution network.
At least 75% of the 100,000 bikes made by the company in Greenford are exported to some 48 countries around the world, but Butler-Adams is clear that’s not enough. “Look at the markets we’re in,” he says. “The UK should be at 3% [of sales] not 25% prorated.
Its new target is for sales in Germany, China and the United States to exceed UK levels within five years. This is driven by self-governing boards with a non-executive chairman in each territory to galvanize growth. Look what Dyson has achieved, building a multi-billion pound business by vacuuming dust from the floor. “This product is just as relevant to society and much more fun,” Butler-Adams says. “We can reach a billion.”
Ettinger wants to “make his name known” in the United States
When Robert Ettinger joined the family business, luxury leather goods Ettinger, in 1990, he packed his bags and flew to New York. Having made a few appointments in advance, he nevertheless finds himself walking the streets, samples in hand, knocking on doors. “It was tough but it worked out for us in the end,” he recalls.
Thirty years later, the American market, where the products of the holder of the royal mandate are available in about sixty points of sale, represents approximately 10% of the company’s income.
“Although they speak English and you think it would be an easy market to break into, it’s not,” says Ettinger. “We really worked hard on it; we have established close ties with them. It is now the fastest growing market in the world for us.
In addition to traveling there once or twice a year, the Ettinger team stays in close contact with their US customers via phone and regular Zoom calls. With larger customers, the company also offers special collections of “dual-branded” items with distinctive leather colors that are therefore exclusive to those brands.
They have also hired a New York-based PR firm and advertise there. “You just have to get the name out in America and keep screaming,” he says.
For Robert Ettinger, whose grandfather founded the company in the UK in 1934, this international vision is in the blood. “We have always been avid travelers as a family,” he explains. In the 1960s, his father took the brand to Japan, “before hardly anyone sold our type of product there or any luxury product there”. Today, Japan is Ettinger’s largest global market, accounting for 12% of all sales, and through its sole distributor, whom Robert began working with 25 years ago, the brand owns two stand-alone stores in Tokyo.
Outside of Japan and Korea, where Ettinger also has a distributor in place, the company sells directly to retailers, including throughout mainland China, where it entered in 2014 and where Robert thinks it could be more larger than the United States or Japan. However, the brand’s biggest outlet right now is its website, through which it makes almost 30% of all sales – and those go all over the world. In total, 90% of the luxury goods produced in the company’s Birmingham factory are exported.
The key, says Ettinger, is to not be intimidated by the task: “Do your research,” he says. “Embassies have staff who will help sell and even find exclusive retailers or distributors. Go on a trade mission. You need help getting started and the government has some great ways to do that.
Chapel Down takes ‘key towns’ expansion approach
For English winemaker Chapel Down, beer exports are still relatively modest – after all, it’s been the work of the last 20 years to conquer the UK market and change consumer attitudes here. But having been served at Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street, and with an established cast at establishments like Waitrose, Marks & Sparks and Sainsbury’s, it’s clear this is an English sparkling wine producer who has found its marks.
Yet as Kent-based Chapel Down continues to watch domestic growth – marketing director Mark Harvey says English producers supply around 4.5 million of the 200 million bottles of fizz Britain consumes each year, compared to around 20 million from Champagne – attractions abound from the growth of its global footprint.
The first benefit, of course, is the prospect of additional sales. Thus, Chapel Down targets the 10 largest champagne buying markets in the world, the largest being America.
“The biggest opportunity for all of us in the English sparkling category is the United States,” says Harvey, noting that it’s also a place where the “British brand” is playing well. “The initial traction when we started exporting before Covid was strong and it’s really starting to pick up again now that most restrictions have been lifted. I think in the long term, the United States is the interesting market where we can develop. »
Chapel Down began working in earnest in the US in 2017 and does so by reaching out to wine thought leaders – sommeliers in super premium and luxury bars, restaurants and hotels, and independent wine merchants , in key cities. In concert, Chapel Down pitches its vintage sparkling wine Trois Grâces traditional method, selling it at the same price as the main French champagne houses sell their non-vintage product.
“This approach has really worked,” says Harvey, noting that the United States now accounts for half of exports. “The sommeliers are interested in the fact that it’s from a relatively new wine region – so they’re involved in the story – and in terms of the proposition for their customers, it’s your money’s worth.”
The rest of the world may still be 15 years behind Britain in its appreciation of English sparkling wine, Harvey believes, so there is a huge untapped market. As a result, Chapel Down aims to export a handsome 5% of its sales by 2026.
The key, says the chief marketing officer, is to stay focused on key cities and build there – avoiding the trap of low volumes in too many markets. The international approach will also reap other benefits.
“Having listings in top accounts in key cities around the world is powerful,” says Harvey. “Many of our customers will be traveling and seeing Chapel Down in the best restaurants in New York, California or Hong Kong is very positive for the brand.”