Act Global, Sell Local. UK and US distributors are increasingly looking to work together. Paul Bellantone explains why
In the past decade, the movement to support local businesses has taken on an added dimension as distributors across the globe have expanded their operations far beyond their own borders to deliver a more personal experience to far-flung customers. Leicester-based distributor EverythingBranded, reportedly the largest distributor employer in the UK with 130 staff and projected 2018 sales topping $29 million, is investing $1.1 million in the coming months to open its first US office located in Las Vegas. It will accommodate approximately 70-100 new employees and will focus on serving customers on the West Coast. The company, which was founded in 2010 as part of the Charles Alexander Distribution Group, currently has a UK-based call centre that services the US eastern and central time zones.
Paul Rowlett, CEO and founder, said the West Coast office offered a national service and he expects to be generating about $1.5 million a month in US sales with a model that’s different from a traditional internet distributor. “We’re a consultative internet, promotional products design agency,” he said. “We use the Google business model to generate e-commerce leads, and offer consultative sales and free design, but we do it remotely rather than physically.”
Coast to coast
He believes having a physical presence in the US will help build relationships and make US companies more familiar with the company’s brand. “They can book appointments and interact with our sales team, and our customers can visit the offices, and we can give them an extra level of service. Also, we can now do national advertising because we’ve got the country covered,” he said. The company’s growth to a multi-million dollar business over the past eight years has been nothing short of remarkable, but it’s not the only business travelling this path. Two years ago, UK-based distributor Brand Addition expanded to the US with its acquisition of St Louis, Missouri-based GatewayCDI.
The combined business has 350 employees across offices in the US, Europe and Asia. The deal, which was in the works for about 18 months, was part of what the company calls its 2020 plan aimed at expanding geographically with new and existing customers. “Being able to offer customers a single supplier option across the US, Europe and Asia gives them the potential to best consolidate spend, control the brand image and reduce internal administration time and costs,” said CEO Chris Lee. “Dependent upon the customer’s needs and internal organisation, this can be very powerful for them.”
Do your homework
For other UK- or US-based companies looking to expand outside their current geographic locations, he offered this advice: “Think hard if it’s something you really want to do and an area you want to compete in. To truly ‘go global’ requires a huge time and cost investment. Choosing to work with the wrong partner or acquiring the wrong company can put at risk your core business and its customer relationships.” London-based branding agency Outstanding Branding, LLC, expanded to the States last year with an office in New York City and sales representation in Washington DC and Albuquerque. “The US market is huge compared to the UK market, so if you want to grow, go where there is more business,” said Sarah Penn, executive vice president. “One thing a lot of companies do is partner with a distributor in the US or UK and that works well – and we do have some US partners – but it was important to us to offer a seamless experience to customers, so we decided to open up our own office.” Over the past year, the company’s strategy has evolved. “Originally, we used UK clients to find US counterparts, and as we’ve developed we are now investing more in digital marketing and lead generation,” said Penn.
Andy Thorne, director of sales, said the US office helped with transparency. “We are getting the supply chain closer to our clients – taking suppliers in and sitting down with clients in a very transparent way.” The advantages of creating face-toface relationships with clients an ocean away is not lost on American distributors. Lewiston, Maine-based Geiger, one of the largest US distributors is among a handful of companies with the scale and capabilities to get local with off-shore clients. In March, Geiger partnered with UK-based distributor BTC Group, which now operates as GeigerBTC Group in the UK and across Europe. “Global customers are motivated to consolidate suppliers for efficiency, control and reporting,” said CEO Gene Geiger. “At the same time, they want local sourcing and service because a US solution does not meet the needs of other markets.” While Geiger has partnered with UK distributors on projects, it was felt that it could best work where it had local teams in other markets, all connected to one IT system. “GeigerBTC not only allows us to serve the British market and our US customers that have footprints there, it enables us to serve customers across Europe,” he added. Paul Bellantone is president and CEO of Promotional Products Association International