Skip to main content

Brolly Sheets co-founder Diane Hurford shares her seven top tips with Catherine Beard on how to access new export markets successfully.

Behind many successful businesses there is a woman who used her own inventiveness to solve an everyday real-life problem.

Chatting to Brolly Sheets founder Diane Hurford reminded me of Spanx inventor Sara Blakely, except in Diane’s case the frustration that prompted the innovation was hitting her head on the top bunk every time she changed her daughter’s wet bed.

There had to be an easier way – and it was waiting in Diane’s head.

Diane created a bed pad with wings, which became the first Brolly Sheets product. After taking it to markets, the response confirmed there was a demand for waterproof bedding that is easy to wash and quick to dry, as well as being stylish and comfortable with its unique cotton top.

Word of mouth soon spread and brand ambassadors played a big part in establishing early market share for Brolly Sheets.

The products have since gone beyond New Zealand into Australia, the UK and US, and the family business has expanded its range to include seniors, special needs and pet products.

Since the Brolly Sheets journey began in 2006, Diane has learnt some valuable exporting lessons along the way.

“For example, you don’t go into a new market because you’ve got a friend who loves your product and is moving there and thinks they can launch it,” she laughs.

Here are her seven top tips:

1. Do your research

“Before you enter a market you really need to research to confirm there is either a hole in the market or your offering is unique enough to make a difference.”

2. Find a niche

“We believe a product should look and feel good as well as be functional. For example, incontinence underwear doesn’t have to look like you’re wearing a nappy.”

3. Get the right team and the right partners

“We wasted a lot of time and money not having the right people on board. You need people who believe in your journey and what you’re doing. Even if we use a third party agency, we want them to feel part of our team. Everybody has to work together as a cohesive unit. If I’m hiring, when I get down to the final two, I get my team to take the candidates out for coffee.

“My advice is to always trust your gut, even when you’re using expert consultants.”

4. Visit your market regularly

“I’ve just got back from the UK and we’d waited far too long between visits. Our customers said ‘If you’re not here, we forget about you’.”

5. Share the story behind the brand

“I am still the face of the brand, and people love that. I still do all the baby shows – people appreciate me as a mother who designed a product for her own children, rather than a corporation.

“I believe people like to see the people behind a business. We’re now a team of seven, and the majority of us are mothers. It’s just worked out like that because we have a product that mothers ‘get’.”   

6. Be expert educators

“Our focus for the next 12 months is educating and growing the UK market. It’s very focused on price, rather than the benefits of quality, quietness and what’s better for the environment. We’re concentrating on market education – especially as there’s a lot in the UK media about bed wetting and kids starting school at age five still in nappies.”

7. Look after your people – right back to the makers   

“At our factory in China the women are paid by the hour not by the piece. It’s also in the countryside, so they can go home to their family every night. We treat them the same as our NZ team.” 

Catherine Beard is executive director of ExportNZ and ManufacturingNZ. Email [email protected]

Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.


Dishing up export possibilities

Exporter Today Editorial TeamExporter Today Editorial TeamApril 16, 2012

What’s mine is not yours

Exporter Today Editorial TeamExporter Today Editorial TeamApril 16, 2012

25 countries… and counting

Exporter Today Editorial TeamExporter Today Editorial TeamApril 16, 2012