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Three Kiwi entrepreneurs who took their businesses offshore, with startling success.
Clothes with a conscience: Gosia Piatek, Kowtow Clothing
Anyone can export, says Kowtow Clothing’s Gosia Piatek. “If you have a clear business plan, a vision and a mentor, you can make it in any market.”
Piatek is a Polish-born New Zealander who started exporting her sustainable and ethical fashion range 10 years ago. Last year, Kowtow Clothing’s rapid growth made it a regional winner in the Deloitte Fast 50 awards.
Kowtow can now be found in more than 150 retailers worldwide, with a newly opened showroom in Melbourne and agents representing the brand in the United States, Europe, and Japan.
Customers love Piatek’s philosophy. “We’re trying large-scale production in an ethical and sustainable manner.”
Piatek has inspected every step in the manufacturing chain, from the Fair Trade raw cotton used in her garments to the ethically run factories in Calcutta and Mumbai that produce them.
“Our clothing breaks a lot of age barriers,” says Piatek. “It’s comfortable yet sophisticated, and of high quality. Each season we design to a new creative brief where we have a lot of fun with new colours, shapes, and theme exploration.”
Piatek tells those interested in following her export success: “Stick with what you do well and listen to your customers. If you see something that’s not working, change it.”
Piatek says you have to love what you do. “You can’t just start a business to make money. You’re not going to have an engaged team. Life is about enjoyment.”
Travel that does good too: Dan Radcliffe, Volunteer HQ
Dan Radcliffe started an international travel business from his parents’ farm in Taranaki. Now his company is spread around the world.
When he left university, Radcliffe took a trip to do volunteer work. He was surprised how much it cost.
“A Contiki tour was cheaper and easier to sign up for,” he says.
Radcliffe could see there was room for a more affordable option. So, with a loan of $30,000 from his parents, he launched Volunteer HQ.
“I taught myself how to do marketing and set up a website.
I was selling an overseas product from a farm in Taranaki, so I invested a lot in the website.”
Business has boomed. Radcliffe now has 30 staff in New Zealand and 300 people working around the world under the Volunteer HQ brand. Each year 15,000 people travel to volunteer in 36 countries, working in fields as diverse as teaching, sports, construction, and arts and music.
Radcliffe’s advice to businesses wanting to expand overseas is to identify your market. “Know who you’re trying to target. Today, you can really drill down to target the right demographics.”
And you should have a point of difference, Radcliffe says. “Ours is affordability, plus experience and quality.”
Radcliffe is still based in Taranaki. “We’re a bit unique as an international online company from the provinces. It’s something that we’re very proud of.”
Selling solutions: Vaughan Rowsell, Vend
Occasionally Vaughan Rowsell gets calls from UK clients in the middle of the night, but he doesn’t mind.
“That can make things really inconvenient if it happens a lot. But that’s a good problem to have, I suppose, and you want to be able to deal with this sort of interest.”
And Vend’s point-of-sale software is certainly attracting a lot of interest overseas, where it’s making transactions easier for retail stores and online businesses.
Rowsell started Vend from the spare room of his home, in 2010. Six years on, he has grown the business into an international success, helping 15,000 retail stores across the world.
“I saw an opportunity to help retailers move off the clunky software and hardware they were using to run their bricks-and-mortar stores.”
Rowsell says he took Vend global on day one. He says to get more traction in offshore markets, business owners should spend time on the ground in each country to really understand the local market.
“Get a plane ticket and get there to talk to people who might be customers or partners. It makes things infinitely easier to get some locals on your side to start with. Then they can help answer the calls and emails in the middle of the night!”
Be prepared to understand and explain a lot to overcome language and culture barriers, says Rowsell.
“Don't let uncertainty or the mysteriousness of foreign markets scare you. The world really is a small place in that it's super-easy to get around, and it’s BIG at the same time.
“There are big challenges in going into other markets but also huge rewards. You’re not Christopher Columbus, so it's a lot easier these days. So be brave and go exploring.”