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How to make the most of an international distributor

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Mrs Crimbles has been focused on building its brand in international markets for the last three years, since then export sales have grown from 3% of company turnover to 15%.

Our products are now distributed in over 25 countries, from Finland to New Zealand and the USA to Hong Kong, and with more consumers and retailers becoming aware of the brand, there is significant potential to increase our export sales further.

As with all relatively small companies, Mrs Crimbles has limits on its time and resources and has had to build up a network of distributor partners it can trust to build the brand when our own team can’t be there. Here are some tips on finding the right distributor:

Be very clear which products you want to get listings for – keeping your distributor on a tight product focus is essential:

  • Start with the products that sell best in your home market.
  • Select the products that deliver you good margins, not many export opportunities come cheap!
  • Choose products that fit nicely into a container and dont disintegrate in transit.
  • Dont make life any more difficult than it needs to be; select products with a good long shelf life!

Look at which markets to target the world is big so be selective:

  • Do your research. Visit markets, go to stores, talk to store owners and shoppers. This information will shape your future decisions.
  • Unless you are a linguistic genius, focus on the markets where language is not an additional barrier to entry.
  • Hopefully you know why you have success at home, so look for markets where an opportunity exists to replicate that success.
  • Take advantage of referrals and recommendations. This can be a good way to build momentum and a sales story.

Choose a distributor which:

  • Comes with a recommendation. Take advice from your UK counterparts, it saves time and increases your chances of success.
  • Has (and takes) the time and resource to properly understand your brand and objectives.
  • Already works in a relevant area of the market and avoid distributors which will treat your products as a random punt!
  • Is not so big that you become just another brand in their catalogue.
  • Convinces you that your brand is their number one priority (this is rarely the case but it will help you sleep at night).
  • Knows about current legislation and labelling laws in their market. If they dont, then it is your brand that will be damaged.
  • You feel you will be able to recommend as being very good. Dont expect perfection, though, there are always compromises to make.

Get the most from your distributor by:

  • Communicating regularly either via weekly email updates or conference calls.
  • Aiming to get a disproportionate amount of your distributors selling time.
  • Visiting them regularly (quarterly if possible), attending customer meetings and having face to face reviews.
  • Giving them all the information they could possibly need and remove any possible excuses for under performance.
  • Enthusing them with success stories about your products rate of sale in other markets.
  • Managing them proactively. Encouraging and rewarding distributors is vital they are your partners and the biggest contributors to your success.

Gareth Toms is international commercial director at Mrs Crimbles

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