So you’re a super-hot brand in American fishing. Every angler who’s anyone has your brand name hidden somewhere in their tackle box, and you have a raft of industry awards and accolades under your belt. What could be better? How about selling that product or brand successfully into Europe?
Sounds like a simple and natural progression right? Well, it’s perhaps not as easy as it sounds. Many have tried. Many have failed. But, a select few have managed to make it work through persistence, smarts, the right contacts and the right timing. What can we learn from these astute industry colleagues? I spoke to Andrew Race, boss of UK firm Reuben Heaton – best known for its carp fishing weigh scales. Andrew has been working as distributor for American hook giant Eagle Claw for several years now and the business model they have adapted is a great example of how it can work.
1. Find a partner you can trust
We’ve all been in those meetings at trade shows. Some hotshot is selling you the absolute dream on how his company can get you into every European market and help your brand explode into the continent, but are they really the right fit? Sometimes the company you should work with isn’t necessarily the biggest or the most well-known but the one that understands your business. Having seen many U.S. brands come and go, Andrew believes the right partner is key.
“If U.S. companies can connect with the right distributor, I don’t think the U.S. element is an issue if the products are good and the marketing angle is right. It’s finding a proactive distributor that is right for your product that’s the hard bit. The main obstacle is trust. People can’t trust what they don’t know or feel sure about. If you pick a distributor or retail chain, how do you know it’s the right one?”
It’s a tough question, but one that should come down to your intuition. Ask yourself: does this guy really buy into my brand or is he just seeing it as a quick and easy way to make some cash or trade off my name?
2. Focus on the marketing mix
Despite some similarities, Europeans and Americans are pretty different and subsequently the way they consume marketing and what they respond to is also very different. It is critical that you either understand these nuances yourself, or work with someone else who does and knows how to translate your messages (not literally). Andrew says: “When we first started working with Eagle Claw, its marketing was geared for their US market structure and not particularly targeted at the grass roots end. We have helped to bridge the gap when it comes to the nuances of European marketing. The psychology of the two markets is different. It is not easy to write articles or produce material for a new market if you don’t know the vibe and how to connect with the target audience. We support Eagle Claw on this side too as it is in our interests to see the brand is projected in the best way.”
3. Tweak your products
It’s a pretty rare and lucky occurrence that you can just drop your existing product line that has been painstakingly tailored to the needs of the American angler straight into Europe and have sustainable success. There are different fish, different disciplines and different tastes in Europe – something Eagle Claw has adapted to with the help of Andrew and Rueben Heaton. The key example of that is that it now produces carp fishing hooks – something that would never really fly in the U.S. market. Andrew explains: “Adapting the range is an on-going thing. Some of it is just getting existing products in the right packaging, some of it is new products like the carp hooks range we designed for them back in 2016. Eagle Claw has a good selection of products relevant to the European market but there is work to be done to make this a comprehensive range. Like any firm entering a new market, in order to make the proverbial omelette they will need to crack a few eggs.”
4. Adjust your supply strategy
Even the physical way products are distributed is different in Europe to the U.S. The U.S. is often a volume-first market, with big chain stores looking to take large orders every six to 12 months. In Europe, with a high number of independent shops still present this is a different approach. Andrew says: “We are being asked [by retailers] for an ever broader range of products in the U.K. which shows increased Eagle Claw product awareness and we are starting to build a system that can supply the “little and often” approach of the U.K. retailers which is in stark contrast to Eagle Claw’s U.S. model. Our retailers are cautious and do not sell in the same volumes, so you need to be able to drip feed new brands in this way.”
5. Visit your target
One of the other key reasons Eagle Claw is a case study of success in terms of an American brand growing in Europe is that they are not shy to get their feet on the ground in the territories they are targeting. They are a regular presence at European show EFTTEX and they have spent time and money working closely with European anglers too. Quite simply, and obviously, the best way to understand a market is to get immersed in it yourself.