26 May 2024, 16:44
By Jon Staker Jun 08, 2023

Seizing the American Dream

The US market may be an attractive prospect for expansion-minded furniture businesses, but despite its similarities with the UK, going West requires a careful, systematic approach, says Jon Staker, CEO of global expansion specialist, Vanquish Commerce Group

There is plenty of info out there about ‘US Expansion’ – just hit Google search. Much of the advice will wax lyrical about the virtuals of going global, with checklists of things to consider – but it’s all cookie-cutter.

I have the distinct advantage of not only having done it several times myself, but of working with many wonderful furniture and home businesses on a day-to-day basis to achieve successful market entry.

After a while, you figure out what works and what doesn’t, and you see the patterns. Those patterns allow you to build a framework that can be repeated over and over again to produce a similar result. Of course, the product has to be great – but provided you have that covered, the rest is formulaic.

When it comes to international expansion, there is nowhere quite like America for us Brits (and indeed our European neighbours), and for good reason. With $1.1t in ecommerce sales, a unified language and a favourable legal and regulatory environment, it is a wonderful place to find growth. If you’re a British-based brand, for example, you are literally looking at a 10x growth potential per SKU.

If you get the following things right, you will be 10 years ahead of other ‘give-it-a-go’ brands …

1. Strategy

It sounds obvious, but so many just Google a 3PL, throw up some listings and fire in some stock, hoping to be the next US success story. Nine out of 10 times it ends up in failure and leaves them smarting from another failed launch.

You should carry out deep research such as market trends, SERP data, customer landscaping, target audience mapping, industry benchmarking and regulatory requirements. You should then be looking at existing metrics such as AoV, CVR, buying cycle, brand awareness, RPR and more. I know, there’s lots of jargon here, but in a nutshell, we want to know who we’re selling to, what we’re selling and how we’re going to sell it.

You’re then going to want to do your due diligence on distribution mapping. What are the best-fit sales channels, where will you market it, and who will fulfil orders?

Use all of this information to build a comprehensive ‘game plan’ so robust you could take it to an investor. It should include an actionable roadmap, with KPIs to measure the success of the launch.

2. Foundational setup

Getting the basics right is essential when launching anything in business, especially something as critical as an overseas expansion. There are some things which are non-negotiable, as boring as they may be.

You’ll need to make sure your legal and regulatory house is in order (legal identity, tax requirements, filing compliance and banking, etc). No two instances are the same, and it is often a misconception, for example, that a British or European entity will need a US entity such as an LLC to trade in the US. Often the inverse is true, and it can be detrimental to set up a US entity. Tax and trade treaties exist between us and the US which make trade very accessible and very simple, providing the correct advice and setup is carried out.

Then it’s onto trademarks, brand registries and IP. You don’t want to be poised to sell and then lose out on brand protection and eligibility to sell.

3. Power positioning

Now it’s onto something that you won’t find anyone else talking about, and I could well be giving away my secret sauce here … but here goes!

Retailers and platform resellers have tightened up vendor application acceptance since Covid. Many of the top platforms, such as Overstock and Target+, have clamped right down and will only want to listen if you have a presence and a captivating proposition. America is not like the UK, they don’t buy and sell features, they buy and sell great stories. I’ve personally been in meetings with major retail buyers there who have said, “No, no, forget the features and price, those things are commodity – what’s the story?”

Here is what we recommend you do to offer the best chance at breaking into those exclusive relationships:

* Develop a compelling brand story with a clear Unique Value Proposition. If this means creating a fresh, US-oriented brand, then so be it. Otherwise, it’s about taking stock and cleaning things up.

* You will then need to create great sales collateral which tells this story in a succinct, very formulaic way.

* You will need a US geo-based website, which will act as the nucleus for your multichannel ecosystem. Vendor managers and buyers will always go to clicks first to validate who you are. If you don’t have a US-based website, they don’t want to be your guinea pig, not in this economy!

* Finally, you will need key social media channels with optimised and targeted content for your new US audience. You will want a minimum of one month’s worth of regular posts before you stick your head above the parapet.

These crucial things give you credibility, validity and desirability in the eyes of your stockists and your mutual consumers. It’s win/win.

4. Pricing

Another thing people omit to talk about is pricing, as though that’s just a thing that ‘happens’. It doesn’t. Get it wrong, and your expansion plans will be over before they started.

The right pricing structure will set you up with a profit matrix that works from MSRP to wholesale, but crucially will allow for the allowances, discounts and fees that each retail partner or platform will want to deduct from you. I have seen people set up to ‘double up’ and end up breaking even (or worse) by overlooking these details. Get the pricing right from day one, it will (quite literally) pay off later.

5. Fulfilment

This bit will make or break your American dream – trust me, as it almost broke mine back in 2016. Like you, I thought I’d find some 3PLs on Google, read some reviews, and give them a go. What could go wrong with putting labels on boxes and handing things to carriers? 

Turns out, everything. My first warehouse experiences in the US cost me over $300,000 in losses, and six moves (it’s not cheap to uplift furniture and truck it across America, btw) but, never one to give in, I made it work. I spent eight months travelling the US, interviewing warehouses and finding the right ones.

The right 3PL for you isn’t the right 3PL for the next guy. Product profile and category, location, proximity to economical entry port, carrier integration, etc are all deep considerations.

Then you must consider retail compliance. Will you sell on Amazon? Wayfair? B2B Retail? D2C? All of the above? Whatever the answer, it has to be clear that the 3PL warehouse of your choice can handle things like Seller Fulfilled Prime, third-party billing, dropship collect, LTL [less than truckload], and so on. Getting this wrong can be fatal, especially if you find out they cannot handle these things once orders are starting to come.

Get warehousing right, and you’re 90% of the way toward making this thing work.

6. Onboarding

Long gone are those heady days of ‘list it and forget it’. Every platform is a minefield of requirements and compliance. You are going to need to spend time learning – or find someone who already knows – each platform inside out. This won’t be the same person, as no one size fits all, no matter what those overzealous agencies might tell you.

To onboard, setup, integrate build-out listings and stores, syndicate reviews, and build robust, compliant fulfilment SOPs per channel requires deep expertise – but it can be done. You’ve done it in your home country, you know this stuff takes effort, and you’re willing to put in the time!

With all of these things in place, I can guarantee that you will be 10 years ahead of your competitors looking to launch in the same market, and in immaculate shape to build your US business!

What’s more is that, if done right, it can be done in 90 days or less if you set your stall out and you’re prepared to put in the work. Imagine that – selling in the US within three months. How awesome could that be?!

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