Dear Design Doctor
I have been creating luxurious, functional woven textiles, like blankets and scarves, for nearly 10 years in Scotland. Sales are pretty good (especially online) but the problem is that they are rather chunky and warm, and therefore I have a very seasonal business.
When I was younger I spent some time in Australia, and I am just wondering, should I start exporting to countries in the Southern hemisphere, so that I get more sales throughout the year? But my work is bulky, and costly to post. Would it be worth it?
Patricia van den Akker, Director of The Design Trust, answered this question as The Design Doctor in Crafts Magazine March – April 2015 (page 21) where it was titled ‘The Pros and Cons of going global’.
‘Most crafts businesses I know are seasonal, generating the vast majority of their turnover in the last 2 months of the year due to Christmas.
In your case this is even more exaggerated as your product is very winter-focused, which gives you an even shorting selling window, which can make it tricky to manage your cash flow and to generate enough sales for the year.
As a seasonal business you need to be able to plan your business and design activities carefully, and be able to cope with months of no or limited sales.
Solutions to this challenge could be that you look at selling less wintery products, like silky Summer scarves or blankets, or start selling wholesale as trade buyers buy more and earlier in the season than consumers do. I just mention these as alternatives routes to even out and increase your sales.
Another exciting option is indeed to look at exporting.
If you already sell well online you automatically start attracting interest from overseas buyers. And Scottish textiles have an excellent reputation, often attracting American and Japanese buyers.
If you want to become more strategic about exporting it’s a good starting point to consider WHY you want to sell overseas.
Is it to sell more, build on your existing online or tourism sales?
Do you want to have the opportunity to travel and explore other cultures?
If you know WHY you want to do something, then you can work out different ways of getting there!
The second step is to work out what you want.
What would your export goal be for 2015 or beyond?
Do you want sales from consumers or trade, or both?
Mostly through online sales, or through international trade shows?
Are you thinking about Australia (which is familiar to you) or other countries too?
Set yourself a deadline of when you would want to launch internationally, and work backwards from there on what you need to do and when.
You can start relatively small: promote yourself in specific countries, use and promote yourself on international market places like Etsy, do a country-targeted Facebook advertising campaign, or contact ten international stockists to start with.
You will have many questions, both practical (like how much does it cost to send a big bulky package to the other side of the world!) and maybe some worries about the unknown too.
Write down all these questions in a big list, and start researching to get the answers or solutions. You might be surprised how quickly you can get answers to ‘problems’ you might have been fretting about for years!
Research is the key to business success and avoiding unnecessary risks, even more so internationally.
- Start which identifying which countries would be best for you and your products.
- Check your current online client database and see where your buyers actually live.
- Google Analytics can tell you which countries are looking at your site already.
- Find out more about these specific countries, who your competitors would be, how much they can charge, and work out WHY people would buy from a Scottish maker instead.
- Read international trade and consumer magazines and blogs to get a feel of the local trends, quality, and price level.
- Do you need to create a special collection with different products that’s different from your UK products?
- Find out who the influential media are that can help you later with doing PR.
- Maybe it would be better to work with an agent, who could do the local promotion and distribution for you?
- Find out about long distance regulation and check if you need to change your t&c.
Talk to other designer makers who sell in these countries, and get advice from experts such as UKTI or British Embassy staff in the countries you are looking at. The gov.uk website has loads of very useful export information, including specific country information, and on issues such as tax, VAT, duties, and potential government funding too that can contribute to your costs for research visits, your communications or to exhibit at an international trade show.
The next step is to start promoting yourself and get better known.
Start networking with international bloggers and journalists, research and contact stockists. Translate your website, use the local lingo and sizes (crucial for the American market!), and potentially set your prices in the local currency.
Work out how you will get paid. Ideally upfront as it will be much harder to deal with any legal issues in another country.
And then … start selling!
See how it goes.
Evaluate regularly, adapt, learn from your mistakes, dare to try things out. You might find that it’s not just Australians who will love your woolly scarves!
Enjoy your business journey.’