Hotmilk a hit on the global stage

When long-time friends Lisa Ebbing and Ange Sloan teamed up to launch fashion-forward maternity lingerie, they had a global brand in mind.  Now, just 7% of their business is local with international sales streaming in via their thriving website and the 300 stores across the globe selling their provocative but practical products.

Here’s what Lisa and Ange have to say about their exporting journey, plus a few gold nuggets of advice for businesses looking at expanding offshore.

At what point did you think Hotmilk could fly internationally?  Immediately!  We knew straight away that to get the volume we needed, we’d have to go overseas.  The immediate reaction we had to our product from retailers in New Zealand alone encouraged us to move very swiftly into other markets.

What was your first exporting step? We started in Australia and went door-to-door visiting stores to showcase the product and we exhibited at trade fairs.  Within three years we had cemented the brand in New Zealand, Australia and the UK. Our early stage website enabled anyone searching “nursing bra” to find us and our stockists.

How did you do your international market research? Trade fairs and expos are a great way to understand the market.  Watching what other people in the industry are doing helps too.

Who did you go to for export advice? We went through New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) and had a number of mentors over the years.  We definitely waited too long to get expert advice, so I always tell people to do it first!

Export NZ advises: Don’t assume that what sells here, will sell there.  Do you agree?  Definitely.  We’ve learnt not to take it for granted that what works in one country will work in another.  There’s a massive difference between all the countries we do business with. For instance, the UK loves black underwear, the US loves nude.  We have to have different margin expectations between countries too.

What costs are involved with exporting?  The duty, taxes, freight and logistics of 3PL warehousing and the travel involved are definitely expensive.  Make sure you do your homework first to avoid surprises.

How did you cope with the increasing sales?  We’ve always had an amazing team in place at head office, and 3PL (third-party logistics) warehouses and our factory relationships have been critical.

What logistics did you have to consider before exporting?  Where to service each market from, for example: EU from the UK, Canada from the US, Australia from New Zealand.  We are looking at a centralised warehouse, perhaps in Hong Kong.  Registering for tax and duties is another thing to consider, and pricing, as it does vary considerably between markets.

What’s your advice for businesses looking at exporting?  Get advice, advice, advice!  Before you think you need it, put your hand up and ask for help.  It’s not easy being global, it means you have a lot of balls up in the air at any one time, but it’s definitely rewarding and exciting!

For Hotmilk’s top exporting tips, click here.

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