While I have definitely learned from making mistakes in my life, I admittedly prefer a different approach to the learning process in business. Trial-and-error, in my book, causes too much stress, not enough joy and oftentimes unnecessary financial loss. For that reason, I work very hard to watch and listen to those who have learned before me when preparing for any major moves with S’well. Expansion is no exception.
Providing S’well bottles to as many people as possible was a dream of mine from the outset. Anything we, as a company, could do to cut down on the use of plastic bottles and also help people express themselves in a fun and fashionable way was the ultimate goal. I knew there would be a ton of risk in not only expanding beyond our New York City base to other regions in the US, but also beyond our borders, into new countries and continents. Because of this, we had to know the ins and outs of each region, understand the various markets and our day-to-day consumers in a deep and meaningful way to be able to mitigate risk through our growth process.
Last year, we expanded into Asia. This year we opened offices in London and Hong Kong and have products on show in Berlin, Paris and London. It’s been a total rush and we have learned a ton along the way, while staying smart with each and every move. Here are three things that have worked in our favor:
1. Build a solid foundation
Expansion couldn’t begin without some major pieces in place. We needed to ensure we had the right product mix to offer to new markets. And we could only have this with a deep understanding of trends and sales in our home market. We spent our first five years getting to know our core customer. We then translated that information to our overseas customer to help us create maximum love in the new territories.
2. Develop the right product mix
Because customers are not a one-size-fits-all, you have to make sure you’re creating a product that will resonate in each new market. Similar to fashion lines, we release new products via seasonal development two times a year – Spring/Summer and Fall/Holidays. This keeps S’well fresh and at the forefront of new trends. We bring these seasonal developments to new markets, using past seasons to predict success in the less known markets. We also use our new global experiences to influence design decisions at home.
3. Operationalize effectively
While design appeals to customers, so too does having access to products. You have to be able to create the means to deliver product to your new regions and this takes careful planning. It is much more complicated to sell into international markets. Each country has specific requirements, paperwork, testing, language, shipping and more. You name it and there is probably a special approach for it. Because of this, you have to know the nuances, then plan and prepare for what you know – and for the hard part – what you don’t know. We make sure we are set up properly at the start before calling on and receiving calls from our top accounts overseas.
You only get to be new to a market once, so you have to get it right the first time.
At the end of the day, it can be hard to not jump the gun in the expansion process. You may be receiving calls from partners all over the world wanting to bring your product to their market. You might be imagining yourself or your team jet-setting to exotic destinations to be onsite for launches. You may even be imagining the speech you’ll give the team about achieving your dreams and the trajectory of the company– up! But you only get to be new to a market once, so you have to get it right the first time. By being thoughtful in your approach, knowing your product inside and out and having a deep understanding of customers in each market (new and old), you’ll be a success from the start.