Tuesday 17 July 2018

Alan O'Neill: Smashing the mould to achieve international success

Developing new markets can boost business (Stock image)
Developing new markets can boost business (Stock image)

Alan O'Neill

What do you do when you have successfully built your brand and your business has reached saturation in your home market? The textbooks suggest you develop new products or you develop new markets.

Tipperary Crystal is an established Irish brand of quality hand-cut lead crystal. In 2011 it was acquired by Allied Imports, a second-generation Irish family business. The Scanlan family have been in the import, distribution and export business for 45 years, starting off in toys and tourism products. Founded by James Scanlan, the business now employs 48 people.

At the time of the acquisition, sales in Tipperary Crystal were made up of 95pc lead crystal and ancillary products at 5pc. Now, seven years later, that ratio has completely flipped. Only 5pc of sales are crystal - the rest is collections of jewellery, cutlery, tableware, candles and other 'living' products. The brand values that made highly trusted Tipperary Crystal such a success included 'quality, innovation, gift appeal, and family'. For consistency and brand integrity, the new owners applied these values to the new collections too.

This strategy - and the new TC Handbag collection, designed by creative director Karen Scanlan - has ensured a growth of 25pc a year over the last few years. I'm not surprised by this. The family has a strong culture of managing change and taking risks.

"We have been in the business for a long time and have learned from our successes and mistakes over the years. We were highly excited by the potential of the Tipperary Crystal brand and were keen to take it to the next level," said managing director Robbie Scanlan.

The collections have a strong 'gifting' theme with a mainly female customer base. That encouraged them to become lead sponsor of the Rose of Tralee festival and to run a very successful Christmas ad campaign, centred around family gifting.

Challenges with export

Having achieved such phenomenal growth in recent years, the family are keen to continue this trajectory. But the indigenous Irish market is limited by its size. Even though they have collections that allow them to sell through gift shops, jewellers, boutiques and pharmacies, there is still a cap on the growth potential in Ireland. Export has to be an obvious next step.

However, when attempts were made to sell Tipperary Crystal products internationally, there was a surprising resistance.

The past international success of Waterford Crystal meant the word 'crystal' was synonymous with Waterford - similar to how Hoover became synonymous with vacuum cleaners and Xerox with photocopiers. So, bizarrely for Tipperary Crystal, although the new collections were potential winners, the problem was in the name.

Export tips

The company had many previous international successes. So rather than give up before they started, they took time to think outside the box.

1. Select a market and research it. There are a number of ways to research a new market, such as commissioning a market research study, running focus groups and so on. Tipperary Crystal's way was to speak to some potential customers to discover the brand perception feedback mentioned earlier. They realised that simply replicating the Irish business model wouldn't work. That did not stop them. Knowing their strengths and past successes were in 'gifting' products, the family literally invented a name that they felt would resonate with an international gifting audience. Built on the Tipperary Crystal brand values (the same patented colours, fonts, packaging and styling), Bailey & Brooke was born as a new brand.

2. Tailor your product range. This would normally follow on from the market research you do. For Bailey & Brooke, they simply identified the best-sellers in each category of the home market collection over the last few years. That became the core launch collection. Undoubtedly when they build expertise in their new markets, differences will emerge in time. The family are commercial enough to be on top of that and will adapt accordingly. Not everyone has such a track record of best sellers, so feedback is vital.

3. Decide your potential market and channels for distribution. This company had three choices, which included direct wholesale distribution, licensing to international distributors and online retail sales. With the support of Enterprise Ireland, several new markets have been opened for licensing the brand and collections, such as Panama, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, USA, Italy and Romania. An online retail store was also developed. The family decided to service the UK market directly themselves, due to proximity, language and taste-levels. Brexit be damned.

4. Test, test and test again. With any new launch in a new territory, testing and fine- tuning is essential. That starts with a mindset that resists making assumptions and that managing change will be essential for success.

Summary

I have been on the periphery of the homewares industry myself for 40 years and, in that time, it always struck me as a sleepy sector with little real innovation. It is really encouraging to see a number of Irish brands, like Tipperary Crystal and others, breaking that mould.

With Bailey & Brooke, the Scanlan family have taken a different route. They didn't let the resistance to the name stop their export ambitions. With determination and resilience, they have built Bailey & Brooke, a new international brand that has real growth potential for years to come. I think they are poised for more stardom, so watch this space.

On the flip side to today's export case-study, next week I'll be exploring how an iconic American import brand like Harley-Davidson has grown in Ireland.

 

Alan O'Neill, The Change Agent www.alanoneill.biz. Contact Alan if you'd like support with your business. Business advice questions for Alan can be sent to sundaybusiness@independent.ie

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