Granny Gothards makes premium ice cream from its headquarters on a farm on the Somerset Levels. It’s a relatively small outfit, with under £1m of turnover, but recently grabbed an opportunity to export to the United Arab Emirates and hasn’t looked back. It now has designs on markets in the Far East, including China. Here founder Amanda Stansfield shares her thoughts on building an export business.
Timing was everything for our first move selling overseas. We got talking to a distributor that was working with a major new hotels group with a long list of procurement requirements. One of the items of the list was premium ice cream, and we were in position to deliver in the volumes that were needed; the stars aligned perfectly for us.
You are equal partners when you work with a distributor. You might feel when you start off that you need the distributor you choose more than they need you, but that’s really not the case. If you have products that are distinctive, or even unique, there should be a lot for the distributor to gain from the representing your product and company.
You can learn a fair amount about a distributor online. Check out the website and you will usually see the companies represented and look at social media activity too. Who is the distributor following and retweeting? What other kinds of engagement can you see? Does all the activity you can find put the distributor in a good light?
I now look on the UAE distributor as something close to being my own salesforce in the region. It’s that intimate and strong a relationship.
When we were looking for a distributor in the UAE we could see the one we picked was reputable. It represents Unilever and some other big players. Beyond that, though, you need to know that the fit is right for your product. Will it be prioritised? Will it get the attention you want?
For UAE we went for a two-year arrangement, with a break at one year to give us a get-out if needed. You need that option to walk away without being tied in long term. That’s not a show of distrust, it’s just pragmatism and good business.
Every distributor you meet will claim to have the best networks and want exclusivity. They can’t all be right! So challenge them on what they mean and find out all that you can.
However good the distributor, everything seems to take longer than you expect. Even though distributors know the people and the marketplace, they still have to sell the idea of your product and that takes time. It some markets, things just move slowly.
You need an open-channel relationship for things to really work. It needs to be a two-way thing. Because there is real trust and openness in our communications, I now look on the UAE distributor as something close to being my own salesforce in the region. It’s that intimate and strong a relationship. We get feedback on things all the time, like the flavours the market might want, and can decide whether to act.
I am looking at the Far East now and need to find a good distributor. My advice, based on my experience so far, is to get as many reference points as you possibly can when weighing up the alternatives. Other companies will be dealing with those you find, so talk to them and find out as much as possible. You are such a long way away when it comes to sorting things out, so you need the right representation out there on the ground.
With China and the Far East I am looking at high-end retail opportunities. I know I could not deliver the volume to China, so it is about finding the right low volume, high-margin opportunities. That’s what I’m working on now.