Thinking about venturing into international markets? A world of opportunity awaits

By Jane Revell-Higgins, Publisher/Founder of Direct Commerce magazine; Founder/Managing Director of ECMOD DC Live and Managing Director of the CatEx DCA secretariat.

ASOS, Boden, Cath Kidston, Charles Tyrwhitt, Joules... just a few names that have achieved fantastic growth in recent years. What do they each have in common beyond the much-envied iconic brands their founders envisioned? Strong management?  Shedloads of creative energy?  Strong internal teams working with great suppliers? Yes, yes and yes.  But something else sets them apart: each of these multi-channel businesses has become a leading brand here in the UK whilst also making significant inroads into overseas markets.

Some scoffed about coals to Newcastle when Boden set its sights on the US market. After all, Johnnie had originally found his inspiration in the US in the shape of J Crew which spurred him to leave the City and launch his eponymous UK business. (Funnily enough J. Crew has recently opened its first UK store in London  but that is another story).  Who would have thought that Nick Wheeler’s team would have found a profitable niche in Germany and another in the USA, where homegrown competition for men’s shirts is so strong.  Or that runaway catwalk success story ASOS would have hit upon a formula that has the world’s young fashion followers beating a path to its door.  Consumers in the lucrative Far East territories cannot get enough of Cath Kidston’s prints and Joules has just completed fundraising in order to chase more overseas sales – again the brand is so utterly British that international customers cannot wait to get their hands on its ranges.   And the opportunity isn’t just restricted to consumer brands; smaller B2B organisations  are also enjoying positive international growth. Who’d have thought that Devon-based dancewear brand International Dance Supplies could take the US, Australia and Europe by storm?  Or that catering equipment supplier Nisbets had such massive potential overseas. Both of these B2B operations show that a strong brand offering great service has just as much potential as the local businesses they are up against. 

Throughout the sector, the news is all about international. The ‘tweens’ will be the decade of explosive growth in global commerce, enabled by the web, by online shopping malls and consolidators and backed by accessible, affordable international order shipping services.  Behind every set of strong results we’re seeing for multichannel businesses the international contribution is growing.  British businesses are recognising that whilst the UK market remains a tad challenging, albeit fast-improving, there is a huge world out there offering deep pockets of opportunity for those who pursue it with open minds and a willingness to test.   More than that, when you market into a range of territories it is far easier to weather the financial storms as rarely, if ever, are all markets subject to the same depressions.  

The time is right to test the waters. Iconic British brands are in demand and those who work to attract and develop international sales have a great opportunity to expand their businesses. 

The start of your overseas journey

There are many starting points for UK businesses examining their international potential. The first and simplest is to review where the bulk of current international enquiries (and orders, if taken) are coming from and to make an existing site more informative and welcoming for international customers.  Talk to other business contacts who are active internationally via organisations like CatEx Direct Commerce Association or other networks. Find local market consultants and suppliers or UK suppliers which offer international services Take advice and prepare to test. Some businesses have been able to add 10 per cent to their current UK sales volumes simply by tweaking their existing website, including translations of key information and offering payment in Euros or US dollars as well as £ sterling.