Ever wanted to sit down with an Australian brand that has already invested in a prospective export market, and pick their brains? At this year’s Naturally Good Expo Business Summit, we facilitated a forum with Slim Secrets’ Jamie Thurin, and spoke about the snack brand’s export journey and its lessons learnt, especially in China.
What is China really like and how did you get there?
“China is very complex,” said Jamie. “It is very different. It is completely unlike any other export market we’ve faced – very different to how you do business in Australia.
“We’ve been selling to China for many years, having no idea really what we were doing. I come from a legal background; it’s very different to exporting. I didn’t really know what I was doing at all… And I think the best thing we did was actually getting on a plane, and going to China. Get on the ground there and really surrounding yourself with like-minded people in similar industries who are all there for the same reasons. To learn, to experience the market, to see what’s going on; to really understand what China is about and to really appreciate that you may have had a successful business here in Australia, or anywhere really, for 10, 15, 20 years, but doing business there is completely different.
Does it pay to have friends in far-away places?
“When we went to China, we met incredible people. We engaged consultants who have been active in export markets for more than a decade, and have now formed a great partnership with them.
“As a small business who really didn’t know what we were doing, but were just learning as we go; to actually develop a partnership with people who have done it before, from the sales and distribution perspectives, also marketing, logistics, investment – it was a great move. You really need to surround yourself with people who have done it before, been there and experienced it. You can learn yourselves. Everyone running your businesses or doing what you’re doing is clearly intelligent, but it takes a lot of time to build up the knowledge to sell in China.
Should I take out a second mortgage for this market?
“Where we are today, it goes up and down; we’re learning every day, and things are changing every day. The way we do business in China has to change regularly because the regulations change, preferences change; the customer is so different, so it’s ever-evolving.
“As a small business, I think you really need to take a risk, give it a go and get over there. Experience it first hand. That’s where you’ll learn the most. But you also need to remember your business is here. It’s in Australia. Or in a lot of cases, maybe it’s in other markets as well. Don’t spend too much time and money and don’t bet your house on China. It is hard, it is complex, but give it a go and, as I said, surround yourself with the right partners.
What’s the most important factor for success here?
“As a protein-based product, Slim Secrets is in a very new category in China – it doesn’t really exist yet. We love our brand, we believe in our brand; we’re a successful brand, and that’s great, but timing is so, so important in China as well. We’ve spent a lot of money building great marketing campaigns, we’ve had the best teams in place, we’ve had the best stylist consultants, we had the best everything, except the timing. It’s coming, it’s almost there, and you want to be the first, but you also need to know where to spend that money, when to invest that time.
“When you work in a small team, you try to do a lot of things yourself, so it’s important to know where to allocate your time, and when. Do your research, and you’ll learn pretty quickly that it takes persistence, patience, and a lot of hard work. And you’ve got to be prepared. It’s not going to come easy – so timing is huge.
What are your thoughts re: markets outside of China?
“By contrast, we’ve been selling to Japan for nine years; and literally the last 12 months we’ve started to see the trajectory go up. I’ve gone over there a few more times. I’m lucky I speak Japanese, so it’s very positive – and I’m passionate about it. To go there and work, and actually meet the guys from Yutaka Foods, FamilyMart, and some of the bigger companies – to meet with them and educate them more about the brands is amazing. I see a change in lifestyle around health, fitness, and activewear and all those things which we’ve all been so accustomed to for 5, 10, 15 years. But it’s so new there. So markets like Japan, and the ASEAN countries like Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines are going well for us.
“Kuwait is our biggest export market. I’ve spent a fair bit of time there, and I’m trying to find the people who are buying our products, but somehow they’re buying protein bars and I don’t know why, but we got in at the right time with great partners on the ground. There was a market for it.
Any final words of advice?
“Things take time. You must think big, but you also have to be patient. You’ve got be willing to allocate your own time well, especially as a small business and not put all your eggs in a China basket or in an America basket or whatever it is – but rather, find out where the best returns can be found for your business.”
Thanks to Jamie for sharing his experiences. If you’d like to learn more about selecting the Asian markets and connecting with the right buyers, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org