Snapper Rock founder and CEO Liz Eglinton is urging other Kiwi companies to consider using trade shows as a way to grow their business in the US.
Eglinton told delegates at the recent EPIC NZ Go Global conference in Auckland that trade shows were the bedrock on which she built her business.
“We didn’t start with a flashy website or advertising. We built the brand from the wholesale side up.”
Eglinton launched the Snapper Rock UV50+ range of children’s beachwear 10 years ago after watching kids in the US playing in the water “getting browner and browner, and burnter and burnter”.
“I saw an untapped market and an opportunity to bring a slice of Kiwi summer to the US,” she says. “I was also keen to have a Kiwi product that made a difference and with a bit of a social conscience.”
Snapper Rock is now a leading company in the kids’ sun protection market. Its range of rash tops, bucket hats, swim sets and beachwear sells to over 650 stores in 25 countries.
Eglinton, a former marketer for Lion Breweries, says she had no experience in the apparel industry or in doing business in the US so she used trade shows to learn about the market.
“It was a look and learn approach. We absorbed all we could from the other exhibitors: what made people stop at their booth, what their sales pitch was. I don’t think they realised how much [market intelligence] they were passing on.”
She also found having good relationships with trade show organisers helped her get better booth space in subsequent years – and ensured more relevant foot traffic past her stand and a higher likelihood of orders for business.
Long-haul relationships pay off in many other ways, she says.
“So it’s critical to get long-term strategy right. We’ve still got a lot of our original customers and most of them still want to do their buying and place their orders at trade shows.
“Americans aren’t like Kiwis. They don’t switch jobs or buy a new house every couple of years. They are into building long-term relationships.
“So customers need to see you’re not just a one-year-wonder. It’s taken ten years to build the Snapper Rock brand in the USA and become part of the industry network.
“One buyer said they’d been watching us for five years before placing an order. They wanted to see if we’d be there for the long-term.”
Eglinton also emphasises the importance for Kiwi companies to have their distribution hub close to customers, and of getting product into the hands of celebrities.
“So if you have retail-ready products, invest in the trade shows, form long-lasting partnerships with your customers and with warehousing and others in your industry, become an expert in your field, invest in an American as your first point of contact and get the New Zealand brand out there.”
By Ruth Le Pla. [email protected]