Whats your background and why did you decide to launch the business
Im a scientist by background, but Id always wanted to be my own boss. When I finished university I asked should I do an MBA I started my own business instead and that was five years ago now. We used to buy second hand flutes from eBay and re-purpose them. They werent really good instruments, so thats when we decided to look at manufacturing. We knew the cheapest flute available was 490. It prices people out of the market. Our entry level flute was 250, which is a lot more affordable. We went to China and spent a long time looking around factories. It took a while to find something that would work.
What prompted the move into accessories
We launched the accessories last year. We noticed that 70 per cent of flutists are girls and all the accessories are black or grey. People dont think it’s cool and it should be – youve seen Anchormans jazz flute! Hopefully we are making it cooler. Weve found a real gap in the market. Units wise we sell lots more accessories than flutes and I wouldnt be surprised if the accessories take over [in terms of revenue] too.
How did you break into the US?
We went to the states in January this year, including Los Angeles and San Diego. We met up with instrument communities and went around the shops that specialise in woodwind. We left samples and followed them up. This meant that were now in one of the biggest stockists in the country.
Social media is good for direct to consumers, in the US the first thing they do is look at the likes you have. But we like to pick up the phone and go out there, and businesses in the US like that personal relationship.
Why did you start with the US and are you retailing in any other markets
The US had most of our direct sales. The states is big enough that it’s all we can do right now. When we have an agent there we can start looking at other markets.
Were selling accessories through Amazon in other countries. We went up to the UK office and after a year they asked us about Germany and now were in Poland too, but were not pushing those markets, it’s just an administrative process.
What does the perception of the accessories differ in other markets
Its important to know your market. The flutes that they start with in the US on are an inch longer. We had to completely change our product. You have to be prepared to do that.
Product testing is important. Under Californian [Proposition 65] rules if it contains chemicals you have to say it can cause birth defects. Were not exporting in the appropriate tonnage to have to do it, but thats something for the future. Product liability is an issue. We have a whole lever arch file on why our product is safe. You have to go above and beyond what you think is reasonable.
With the instruments they won’t be able to trust the brand. In the UK we must have visited hundreds of shops. They trust us. To do that in the states would be impossible and to establish brand trust would be impossible.
What else did you do to research the US market
We speak to people about the products they sell. The [UK Trade & Investment] UKTIs Passport to Export scheme was helpful. They dont spoon feed you, but they make you think about what you need to do at every stage of the process. Without them we wouldnt be where we are today. They also paid for 50 per cent of the trip to the US and have completed an Export Communications Review.
What are your hopes for the future of the export business
Exports are currently 15 per cent of revenue, but thats because the flutes are a lot more expensive. Exports will increase by 50 per cent next year and I hope exports will be a bigger part of that revenue. Were looking at hiring someone to do our social media full time. Right now we have two full time employees and one part time here and one part time in China, alongside a team of freelancers.