Export Solutions recently celebrated the 15 year anniversary of the launch of Export Solutions distributor database. Many of my friends from export will recall the story behind the birth of our database. I was faced with the challenge of identifying distributor candidates in Italy for a large multinational . I attacked the project the “old way”: sort through business cards, check Embassy, call colleagues, search the internet, and after one month locate five acceptable distributor candidates. Frustrated by the process, I took six months off and pioneered the first industry database created from the standpoint of an export manager. Today, brand owners locate names, web sites, brands represented, and contact information for 84 Italian distributors and 9,200 distributors worldwide in about 10 seconds on my web site.
Below are some important lessons learned about finding distributors.
1. Seventy Nine Distributors per Country
Each country offers more distributor options than you think. Every government trade officer and export manager knows the names of 3-5 distributors per country. Often, we stick with an under- performing distributor because of the misconception that “there are no other choices” in a market. Our country lists track an average of 84 distributors of all sizes and specialties per country. The revelation is that you can instantly find several qualified distributor options in every country by using Export Solutions database.
2. Consider Small-Mid Size Distributors
Mega distributors representing 20 or more brands are not usually interested in pioneering new brands with zero sales. These large distributors are excellent, but are busy enough with their current portfolio. Many new brands focus their energies on these “name brand” distributors, but are frustrated with the lack of response. Better approach is to pursue small to mid size distributors that are hungrier and more entrepreneurial to launch a new brand. Big distributors are a good choice when you are outsourcing sales of a brand with measurable existing business.
3. Email plus telephone call
No one speaks these days. We email 100 messages a day and wonder about the lack of response. Email is a great to tool to communicate news. However, when you need action, pick up the phone and call. Executives still return phone calls, but will frequently ignore or delete email messages just to clear the inbox.
4. Rethink your Trade Show Strategy
Trade shows like Anuga, Sial, Cibus, and ISM are outstanding places to gain visibility for your brand and contacts with potential new distributors. However, too many brands use the “Hope and Wait” approach at their booth. Unfortunately, many of the spontaneous visitors at a trade show are from “time wasters”, incapable of building your brand. Some of our best success stories come from companies who leverage Export Solutions database to create productive meetings at trade shows. Basically, they pre-screen candidates from the database in advance of a trade show and invite the most promising ones to scheduled meetings at the show.
5. Avoid Disappointment-Visit each market at least once
There are too many disappointments in the world of export. Usually, the distributor is blamed, but ultimately the failure is based upon lack of due diligence by the brand owner combined with unrealistic optimism by the distributor. Frequently, I’ll witness a distributor meeting a brand owner for the first time at a trade show. Within five minutes they are discussing pricing, followed by exaggerated projections of market potential. Do your homework. Visit each market at least one time. Our business is fairly straight forward to figure out. Meet your distributor candidates at their office. Visit a few stores. Then create your plan. Export is tough, but you increase your chances for success when you complete some fundamental in market due diligence.
This is a great industry and I have been very lucky to meet many of you and learn about your businesses. Below are some of the memorable comments from the last four years.
“We don’t need a database for distributors.
We get the info from the government ( Italian Export manager )”
Ok Greg , you have done something very good for the industry.
( same Italian Export manager as above, 4 years later)
Who knew that there were194 distributors in the UAE ? ( USA export manager global food company)
Where was your database 10 years ago when we rolled out around the world ?( Billion dollar fmcg/cpg)
Your database has made my life a lot easier ! ( European consultant)
“Spend Time Selling to Distributors versus Searching for Distributors”