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Seven tips for breaking into the US market

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It’s not only rock bands that struggle to make it in the U.S. It’s an extremely tough market for any business to crack, especially the highly competitive dancewear industry. And, despite my years of experience successfully exporting to Europe, the U.S. market was a totally different story. 

It takes time, patience and determination. I was showing up at dance trade shows and business events seven years before we made our first sale. Making meaningful connections, getting a feel for the culture and regional differences and learning about the competition doesn’t happen overnight. You’ve got to knock on doors and get yourself out there.   

My U.S. adventure really began in 2009, and in 2010, demand picked up. That year, after many face-to-face meetings 1st Position was selected as the exclusive supplier to American Ballet Theatre, the country’s national ballet company. It’s been a long road, but this year we celebrated five years of successful exporting to the U.S. We now export to 47 U.S. States and sales are up 20% on last year. 

This success is not only down to sheer determination. There’s also a growing demand for top quality British products. I started making 1st Position leotards as a young dance teacher in Liverpool in 1978, because of the lack of well-fitting, high-quality dancewear available. 36 years later, 1st Position garments are still made in the UK, and this ‘made in Britain’ appeal has been a big part of its overseas success.

I’m not the only person from Liverpool to find success in America, but here’s some top tips on exporting to the U.S. that I learnt along the way: 

Quality – ‘Brand Britain’ is booming, with more and more overseas customers looking for great design and high quality. So if you do manufacture in the UK, shout about it

Stand out and be better – don’t let the fact you are based abroad be an issue. Many of our U.S. customers are surprised when we tell them we can often deliver quicker than their internal postal service

Good communication – in my experience, U.S. customers appreciate good old-fashioned communication and nothing beats a face-to-face meeting

It takes time – invest in building relationships. At the end of the day, business is built on trust and it takes time to gain this – and don’t give up

Listen to the customer – U.S. customers love a British accent, especially when they’re buying British. Indeed, when we used a U.S. call centre to handle local calls, everyone complained about the lack of British accent!

Think about the time difference – U.S. customers can reach our UK-based customer service experts 24 hours a day, on a toll free telephone number

Use the help available – we worked with the UKTI Overseas Introduction Service who were a great help in the early days, putting us in touch with some key contacts and giving advice.

Anne Walker MBE founded 1st Position dancewear in 1978. She is also CEO of International Dance Supplies (IDS) the UK’s largest wholesale dancewear supplier.

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