What are the biggest differences between selling in Canada versus another country?
In Canada, we successfully built our brand with an early focus on sales and marketing in boutique and specialty stores. These smaller retail shops were strong brand advocates who shared the MyPakage story, values and mission with their customers.
Our first export market was the U.S. We have a dedicated U.S. warehouse and the logistics are essentially the same in both countries, but south of the border, there are fewer privately owned, boutique-style outlets. That means our products are often sold in a “sea of underwear” in large retail stores, where the art of customer service can be lost.
How did you adapt to that difference?
One method is to do special retail events that profile what makes our products unique and allows us to get our products directly into the hands of customers. Here’s one success story: when launching at Cabela’s, the outdoor store, we were part of “customer appreciation days.” We sent some of our people from Canada to the stores, and we offered discounts and gave away product. Our experience has shown that giving people a chance to try MyPakage really drives sales.
What are some challenges you’ve experienced exporting to other global markets?
Men in different countries have different preferences when it comes to underwear. To succeed globally means we needed to adapt some of our marketing approaches, as well as the products themselves. What sells well in North America doesn’t always do the same elsewhere. For example, we changed our sizing and cuts to meet demand in markets such as Japan and the U.K.
Another challenge in foreign markets is ensuring that when working with distributors – who know their own markets well – we hold true to our values as a company, as well as the values that Canadian companies typically stand for around the world, including quality and service.
What have you learned from exporting that has benefitted your operations in Canada?
Our distributors in the U.S. helped us understand more about what is possible when working with large retailers. Some of this knowledge can help us reach out more to big franchises in Canada. The “store-in-store” displays that work well for many brands that have built a strong identity have great potential here as well. Our brand has evolved to the size to warrant more use of this model domestically.
When it comes to exports, what do you know now that you wish you knew then?
When we first began building our partner networks in other markets, we didn’t always know how to make the right choices. Some people like to exaggerate the opportunity in their market or make unrealistic promises. In some cases I wish we had been better at judging whether a partnership would succeed. If you end up dissolving relationships after a time because they didn’t work, you have wasted time and lost some revenue.
Once you are more established, you have more options in terms of partners. You have to have the trust of the market and show that you’re stable, but you can’t rush it. I wish we could perhaps have sought stronger partners earlier – but I recognize that it’s part of the evolution of the business.
What is the #1 thing new SMEs need to know about exporting and trade?
Recruit the best possible partners. You are asking your partners “to be you” in a market, and that means you need to develop strong relationships and joint goals, so they preserve your messaging and uphold your brand image. And you have to show that you are investing in making them successful too.