My father has always been a businessman. Some would call him a “serial entrepreneur.” He’s passed that entrepreneurial spirit on to me, my brothers and his wife, Sonia, but our love for business truly sparked when Dad came to us with his idea for Creos.
After seeing an increase in large art installations coming to Montreal and how popular they were, my father decided there had to be a way we could help artists take their art all over the world.
The result was Creos, a company where we leverage our know-how to provide our clients with powerful artistic proposals that meet their requirements and constraints of the spaces they wish to promote.
But a business made on taking art outside of Canada meant Creos would be exporting from the start. We didn’t know much about what that looked like, or where to begin, but we learned along the way.
And it’s all paid off. So far, we’ve organized more than 50 exhibitions in 26 countries across four continents. And in September, Creos was recognized as one of Canada’s Top New Growth Companies in the 2018 Startup 50 rankings compiled by Canadian Business and Maclean's magazines.
Just like when you’re starting anything new, it’s important to find a mentor who can help answer your questions. When we started shipping art installations to places like Switzerland, the UK and Jerusalem, we didn’t know where to start. We ended up speaking to other businesses who had shipped to those countries, picked their brains about what it was like and even talked to local suppliers.
Don’t assume you have the answers to everything. For example, we recently shipped to China. It took a lot of time and discipline to figure out the paperwork we needed to do to get all of the approvals and required access, like the visa. For us, it was important to talk to artists who had been to China, and the organizations we were working with there. I would also recommend doing as much research as possible, and don’t give up—sometimes a small hint from someone will push you in the right direction.
When you’re exporting, sometimes it feels like you’re too far from your customer and where your product is going—but you don’t have to be. There have been times where we’ve decided to get a plane ticket to make an in-person visit to a festival site or conference headquarters so we could gain visibility with our stakeholders. It’s also important to be right in the mix with the other players in the industry. If you stay home, people won’t think about you. By being on the ground you can find the right business opportunities.
There are a few things that have led us to grow exponentially. In 2016, we exported six exhibits, in 2017 around 28 exhibits and about 46 exhibits in 2018. Our ability to grow quickly has been, in large part, because of who we’ve partnered with. All of the artists and owners of the pieces have been great partners because they’ve provided great quality work. When we go see a museum partner or festival organizer and have a great art installation, we have the confidence to tell them the piece will make an impact on their event, whether it’s there for four, six, or 10 weeks.
One of the things we learned from working with different organizations is that they always want to get a better understanding of how the art installation impacts the number of customers visiting their business or event. So when we go to sell an installation to an organization, we always try to sell the social media angle. While it’s not always what people think of when they think of an art installation, it’s a great way to measure the foot traffic that comes through an event in a given amount of time.
For example, if one of our customers has an art installation for four weeks and gets hundreds of social media engagements and interactions with it, they can see the impact it made, and whether or not it was more successful than a traditional radio or newspaper campaign would be.
We enjoy using social media as a selling factor when speaking with prospects because not only do we believe in the art we display, but we believe in the power social media has in connecting larger groups of people and allowing a wider audience to engage with the art.
Exporting doesn’t have to be challenging
When you’re first starting out, exporting can seem daunting so it’s important to take it step by step. Look at the big picture, but also take your time and get the proper research done. Figure out which organizations work best with your business and ask questions—don’t be afraid you’ll annoy them. You can also reach out for support to organizations like Export Development Canada. They’ve helped us navigate new markets, answered questions we had along the way, and provided access to additional working capital so we could enter additional markets. Most importantly, find a unique way to market what you’re representing and have confidence in it.
Image source: Face – Thomas Voillaume and Florian Girardot / Bal de Neige – Ottawa 2018 © Geemal Sevathean