Rising to the Challenge of Online Exporting
Challenge Trophies provides medals and trophies for the sporting, academic and corporate worlds. The business was established in 1976 by the parents of the current Managing Director, Neil Seymour, selling only through retail outlets. An expanding business resulted in the opening of additional stores and warehousing. However, rising retail costs and a change in buyer habits led to a rethink in strategy and, in 2009, Challenge Trophies began selling online. “If I’m honest”, explained Neil, “we were rather half-hearted at the start and didn’t really know much about e-commerce, but we quickly saw there was a big market and wanted to make the most of this opportunity!”
Through his bank, Neil was invited to a seminar on exporting by UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), the government body supporting export business. “I was somewhat sceptical about exporting, but this talk exploded many of the myths for me and, seeing the support available to help us grow our export sales, I had a change of heart!” At the event, Neil was introduced to Mel Langton, an International Trade Advisor (ITA) at UKTI. Mel was able to offer advice and introduce Neil to many services to help Challenge Trophies grow their export business.
One of the UKTI services Mel recommended was the Export Communications Review (ECR). The ECR provides practical, impartial and straightforward advice and can help companies improve their online visibility in overseas markets, including devising an international web strategy. Each review is conducted by a communications expert and is tailored to the company’s individual requirements.
Challenge Trophies’ planned route to export markets was via online sales, so Neil’s brief for the ECR was a comprehensive appraisal of their e-commerce approach: checking their websites were suitable for international customers and whether their international web strategy would deliver their goals. Neil gave further details, “I’m not an IT technical person, so I wanted to ensure we were going in the right direction as mistakes we made now could cost us dearly in the future”.
Transforming the e-commerce website
Sarah Carroll, a registered Export Communications Consultant, met with Neil and undertook a thorough review of the Challenge Trophies website in the context of their export plans. “Sarah also reviewed other similar sites,” explained Neil, “not just what they looked like to a potential customer, but also the coding and set-up. This really helped us to learn what had worked for others and the mistakes to avoid!”
The review was followed by a comprehensive report detailing clear and straightforward recommendations including:
- Tailor payment terms and platforms for each target market: “In the early days we’d assumed all customers in Europe would have the same attitude to credit cards as in the UK – they don’t!” said Neil. Sarah’s report suggested options for each target market.
- Develop a specific sub-domain or website for each country: Ensuring appropriate language, content and style. “There are so many little details that make a big difference!” Neil shared one of his key recommendations for others thinking of selling online, resulting from the review with Sarah. “Find yourself a good local translator and enlist them to do country-specific promotional initiatives on your behalf. For example, our Swedish translator gives us really useful information about which sports are played when, enabling us to tailor our messages accordingly”.
- Ensure appropriate set up for each site for Search Engine Optimisation: Sarah suggested practical ways to help Challenge Trophies to climb up the search engines in the target markets. “Within three months of launching our Swedish site, we were getting 3,000 relevant visitors per month!”
Boosting sales from international markets
Since the review, Challenge Trophies have launched five European sites on local domains. UK online sales are up 75% year on year and online export sales are up 150%. Neil predicts online export will account for 30% of sales within the year.
“The great thing about the ECR”, said Neil, “is that it gives you the clarity and confidence to take this next big step. My advice to anyone thinking about exporting would be ‘go do it!’ You’re not alone, there’s so much support out there for you: UKTI is the best kept secret! ”
If you are thinking about reviewing your communications or website for an international audience then maybe an ECR could help you too? Find out how to grow your business globally online: