If you want to start exporting, stop looking for importers. Start with the bars and restaurants that are right for your commercial proposition. Then you can move backward and get to an importer.
99% of brands will look for an importer first. But if you do that before clarifying what your brand stands for and where you want to be in a new target city, you are just procrastinating on the problem. It's like kicking a can down the road.
It creates the illusion that you’ve made it. You signed the deal (if you have a contract at all), and you think orders will come like magic.
But if you are not specific, guiding them and aligning on the brand journey in that market, you will hand over all responsibilities to them.
In reality, yours will become "just another brand" in the importer's portfolio. You will end up:
- having endless talks with importers to get them to list your brand
- trying to get importers to increase their sell-in orders despite low sell-out
- spending time and marketing money on activities that have no&low impact
This top-down thinking came decades ago when there was a good balance of importers and brands in each market. It’s not like that anymore.
- There are usually very few importers capable of building premium brands in a market (obviously depending on each Country). This creates an incredible bottleneck that most brand owners do not realize.
- Most importers rely on a handful of people in the market, covering the whole Country, with a very limited impact on what they can do. Wholesalers make most market sales with a much more granular approach, with sales teams dedicated to a city or region.
- If you lack a good relationship with wholesalers, you are unlikely to scale in a market. If you don't win a city, you can't win a Country.
Entering a market with a top-down approach creates the illusion that you've made it. But getting an importer is just the beginning of the sales journey.
I used to get many requests for “the right importer in market XYZ”. I used to give out the names of the best ones I knew until I realized it was a waste of time for the brand and for the importer.
They were having good conversations, but things were going flat after the first order.
I realized that it is not about finding an importer to drive sell-in. It's about understanding the need for suitable bars for your brand to generate sell-outs (at the bar level) that will lead to sell-in (at the distributor level).