How to crack the US

Moorhouse founded Lane4 with sports psychologist Graham Jones in 1995. The aim: to use sports techniques to improve performance and leadership for a range of corporate clients.

Today, the firm turns over £5.5m, employs 63 people, and helps clients like Sainsbury’s, Coca Cola, Deutsche Bank, Honda and Nestle make the most of their staff.

But working with big corporates automatically requires an international outlook. When Moorhouse realised that his clients wanted to secure Lane4’s services for their European and American offices, he had to oblige.

"Five years ago, we had a few consultants based in the US," he recalls. "They were only freelancers, they weren’t even fully employed by us. There was actually a lot of work and I realised it was worthwhile setting up a base there."

Moorhouse set his sights on Manhattan. "That’s where we had clients that wanted to work with us," he says. "You can’t crack a massive market in one go. We focussed on one location."

He received funding from the UKTI to pay for market research and flights for the directors so that Moorhouse and Jones could go to the US and scope out the business. Everything was going swimmingly until it came to choosing the right candidate to head up the Manhattan operation.

"That was our first mistake," says Moorhouse. "We chose someone who wanted to live in Toronto instead of New Jersey because of his family. So we didn’t have the right person in the right place. We thought, ‘It’s not far. And we’ll target Canada next.’ But it didn’t work out like that."

The first attempt to break America was a disaster. But the company was mercifully unscarred: it cost the firm virtually nothing to call time on the deal and the only real setback was time.

"It was the second attempt that made a loss," says Moorhouse, sheepishly. "This time we chose an American to head up the business. It was just too early. She lived in New Jersey, so the location was perfect. But there was no cultural imprint.

"Her background was very corporate," he continues. "We were very hand to mouth. Our philosophy was that you treat every pound in the business as your own. We were all about blagging office space; she signed a five-year lease."

The loss was "not substantial", Moorhouse insists. "We had to exit her contract though. That was… interesting," he adds.

Third time lucky, however. In 2007, Moorhouse made a last ditch attempt to take Lane4 Stateside. This time, Jones went over to head up the US office, taking the Lane4 culture and ethos with him. "This time it’s working," says Moorhouse. "We have ten staff over there and the US arm already accounts for about 20 per cent of our turnover. Not only do we have an operational hub over there – taking calls in the same time scale etc – we also sell locally too."

Here are Moorhouse’s top tips for cracking the US (first time round)

1.) "Don’t try and tackle the whole of America. Zone in on one area and go where the business is. Just follow the money."

2.) "Make sure you transfer people backwards and forwards between foreign offices to ensure you keep the company culture. We have an American guy working in our UK office while Graham’s over in the US at the moment. Soon, we’ll swap them around."

3.) "Have a consistent business model. This is particularly important if you have international clients. They don’t want to receive a different service from different offices. It’s still one business."

4.) "Keep an eye on the currency exchange. The dollar is strong at the moment, but only when we reinvest it into the the US office. Once we convert it back into pounds, it loses its value."

5.) "Don’t be slack with your brand image. Before long, locals in your new office want to change it and suddenly you’ve got a whole different brand."

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