Small retailers eyeing bright outlook overseas

A young girl wearing Babiator sunglasses Babiators' sunglasses are now on sale in shops in 45 countries

The founders of a new brand of children's sunglasses guessed their sales would soar across the US thanks to the glare of publicity provided by a celebrity TV endorsement.

The company in question is called Babiators, and the praise came back in 2012 from actor and comedian Nick Cannon, the husband of singer Mariah Carey.

Appearing on the popular Ellen DeGeneres Show, he said how much he liked his baby son's sunglasses.

The publicity, which came just a year after the Atlanta-based business was formed, sparked a stampede of customers and put Babiators firmly on the map in the US.

With its domestic sales having continued to grow strongly, the company, which now has 15 staff, has since expanded overseas.

But while Babiators enjoyed a dream start in its home market, how has it fared abroad? And what are the wider issues that small retailers have to face when seeking international sales?

Start Quote

One of the major challenges is brand unity, [of] wanting to make sure that the person who signs on to exclusive rights for Babiators in another country gets your brand, and will sell it well”

End Quote Molly Fienning Co-founder Babiators
'Could be fun'

Babiators was founded by two couples who had been friends since university, Ted and Molly Fienning, and Matthew and Carolyn Guard.

The inspiration for the product sprang from Mr Fienning's previous job as a fighter pilot for the US Marine Corps.

One time while Mrs Fienning was watching her husband and his colleagues land their planes at their base in South Carolina, she noticed that all the children in attendance were having to squint as they looked up at the sky.

The military had issued Aviator sunglasses to the adults watching their loved ones, but not to the boys and girls.

"The kids were kind of left out there in the sun," says Ms Fienning, 34.

She mentioned the children's predicament to her husband, who came up with the name, Babiators.

"Once we had the name, we thought, 'OK, this could be fun,'" she says.

Developing the idea with the Guards, they designed sunglasses which were made out of rubber instead of plastic, so as to be as durable and child-friendly as possible.

Babiators co-founders, left to right, Molly Fienning, Carolyn Guard and Matthew Guard Babiators says being an American company has helped their overseas sales

They started selling Babiators in March, 2011, for about $20 (£12) each.

'Brand unity'

Although the Babiators' website allows customers to buy the sunglasses directly, the company realised that most people, when buying clothes or clothing accessories, like to try them on first.

Start Quote

Entrepreneurs need to do what I'm not sure comes naturally to them - they need to pause and study the culture”

End Quote Candace Corlett WSL Strategic Retail

So after some speedy international expansion, the sunglasses are now available in 45 countries, via almost 2,000 retailers.

This swift overseas growth has posed some obstacles for the company.

"One of the major challenges is brand unity," says Ms Fienning. "[Of] wanting to make sure that the person who signs on to exclusive rights for Babiators in another country gets your brand, and will sell it well."

But despite these worries, with Babiators' total sales set to hit $4m (£2.4m) this year, Matthew Guard says the brand's strong American identity has been a big help overseas.

"The fact that we have a very American brand is actually a real asset," says Mr Guard, 34. "The hard part for many entrepreneurs is finding an identity that works [abroad]."

'Good feel'

For UK-based ladies' shoes designer Sarah Watkinson-Yull, she has worked hard to ensure that her company's expansion into mainland Europe has increased the strength of her brand, rather than damage it in any way.

Sarah Watkinson-Yull with one of her shoes Ms Watkinson-Yull keeps a close eye on stockists

The 24-year-old is the owner of Oxfordshire-based Yull, which she started in 2011 while still at university.

Yull now sells 600 pairs of shoes in Europe a year, via independent shops predominantly in Italy, France and Belgium.

While the stores are supplied by agents in each country, Ms Watkinson-Yull personally checks and approves which shops can stock her shoes.

"Thanks to social media and the internet, I can have a look at the shops, and generally get a good feel for them," she says.

"I don't simply sell to a wholesaler, and let him or her sell on to anyone... the damage to the brand could be horrendous."

But whatever the plan of action a small retailer has in order to succeed in overseas markets, analyst Candace Corlett, president of New York-based WSL Strategic Retail, says that carrying out significant research is vital.

She advises such firms that they look closely at the target markets, with the help of local consultants and through detailed preparation.

"Entrepreneurs need to do what I'm not sure comes naturally to them," she says. "They need to pause and study the culture."

With so many potential pitfalls to overseas expansion, some small retailers have decided to instead stick to their home market, at least for now.

One such business is Atlanta-based Hide-ees, which makes cotton shorts for girls to wear under dresses and skirts, to prevent them from accidently showing their underpants.

Its products are currently available in 500 retailers across the US, and the company has decided to focus solely on growing its sales within the states, at least for the foreseeable future. Even its online sales are only open to people based within the US.

Back at Babiators, the founders add that their overseas sales are greatly helped by pictures of children wearing their sunglasses, and that such images help to overcome any language barriers.

"A cute kid is a cute kid, no matter where he or she is," says Carolyn Guard, 32.

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories

RSS

Business Live

  1.  
    Via Twitter Douglas Fraser Business and economy editor, Scotland

    "Big contract win for Schlumberger, providing drilling + well services for Statoil, in big new Mariner heavy oilfield, east of Shetland"

     
  2.  
    08:45: Cyprus denied bailout cash
    A  man walk outside a branch of Bank of Cyprus in Nicosia

    Remember last year's bank crisis in Cyprus? Well, the island nation may be in trouble again. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is refusing to give Cyprus an €86m tranche of rescue money after the Cypriot parliament voted to suspend an insolvency law - due to take effect at the end of the month - that would have made it easier for banks to start to collect on bad loans.

     
  3.  
    08:40: North sea oil outlook BBC Breakfast
    Dominic Laurie, BBC Breakfast

    Around 375,000 people work in the UK oil industry and half of those are in north east Scotland says a cold looking Dominic Laurie from Aberdeen docks on BBC Breakfast. He speaks to the chief executive of Wood Group Bob Keiller. He says the industry has been through this kind of challenge before when the oil price collapsed in 1986 and 1998. He says the oil industry came out stronger.

     
  4.  
    08:25: North Sea oil outlook Radio 5 live

    More from Sir Ian Wood. He thinks that oil prices will be around $60 to $65 a barrel over the next 18 months and then will recover. That could prompt job losses of up to 10% in the UK oil industry, although he thinks it is more likely to be 5%. He says that investment plans are made 2-3 years in advance, so the impact is not immediate.

     
  5.  
    08:18: North Sea oil outlook Radio 5 live

    "Well over the top and far too dramatic," is how Sir Ian Wood describes a warning that the North Sea oil exploration business is close to collapse. Sir Ian is the Scottish billionaire who was commissioned by the government to carry out a review of the UK's oil industry.

     
  6.  
    08:09: Newspaper review
    Business pages

    The bid by IAG for Aer Lingus dominates today's business pages. Times Business Editor Alistair Osborne says IAG's timing is not great as Aer Lingus shares are up 54% over the past year. Away from that, in the Financial Times Gillian Tett warns about the amount of dollar-denominated debt held offshore by companies from emerging markets. Graham Ruddick of the Telegraph warns that next year could be even worse than this year for the big supermarkets chains.

     
  7.  
    07:59: North Sea oil outlook BBC Radio 4

    Ian Theophilus an oil and gas consultant tells Today he expects a number of North Sea oil projects - planned with a higher oil price in mind - may be reduced or cut altogether. He says he is very worried about the prospect for North Sea oil in 2015. He says he and colleagues "remember the late 1980s and 1990s" when the oil price was between $9 and $11 per barrel and "everything was stuck". "The chances are that could happen again," he adds.

     
  8.  
    07:51: Keeping the lights on

    Reacting to the completion of the energy auction Energy Secretary Ed Davey, said: "This is fantastic news for bill-payers and businesses. We are guaranteeing security at the lowest cost for consumers. We've done this by ensuring that we get the best out of our existing power stations and unlocking new investment in flexible plant."

     
  9.  
    07:41: Keeping the lights on

    Companies will be paid £19.40 per kilowatt by the government to provide backup power following an auction process that has been going on all week. The new scheme is designed to ensure the nation has a sufficient energy buffer to cope with peak demand - usually over the winter.

     
  10.  
    07:32: Premier League TV review
    Premier League logo on a football

    Ofcom has launched a consultation on its view that the current division of Premier League and Champions League football between Sky and BT harms competition between pay TV retailers. Back in 2010 Ofcom ordered Sky to offer its sports channels to rivals at a price set by the regulator. It is now reviewing whether that has helped competition and "remains appropriate". There will be a second phase of the review in 2015.

     
  11.  
    07:20: North Sea oil outlook Radio 5 live
    North Sea oil platform

    It's extremely difficult to tell if the North Sea oil business is heading into the same kind of crisis that it saw in 1986, says Aberdeen businessman Charles Skene on Radio 5 live. Kenny Anderson the boss of an Aberdeen construction firm remembers the "strife" caused in 1986 when oil fell to $36 per barrel. But predicting oil prices is an "impossible game" he points out.

     
  12.  
    07:10: Samsung shareholder payout

    Samsung Electronics is considering increasing its dividend payout this year by between 30% and 50% compared to 2013.

     
  13.  
    06:56: Nigerian currency crisis BBC Radio 4

    Phillip Walker of the Economist Intelligence Unit, tells Today the crisis facing Nigeria is far bigger than the one facing Russia. Nigeria's currency the naira has fallen 15% against the US dollar this year forcing the country's central bank to impose foreign currency trading controls. "Nigeria has a bigger population than Russia, its economy relies on oil exports more than Russia, so it's a big problem," Mr Walker says.

     
  14.  
    06:48: Gas prices BBC Radio 4

    Professor Green says energy suppliers have an eye on politics at the moment. He says Labour leader Ed Miliband's promise to freeze energy prices for 20 months if his party wins next year's election may mean suppliers will keep prices artificially high despite currently benefitting from lower gas costs.

     
  15.  
    06:34: Gas prices BBC Radio 4

    While falling oil prices have recently caught the attention of many, the cost of gas has also been coming down. That's because demand in Europe has been falling due to a relatively warm winter so far. Richard Green professor of sustainable energy business at Imperial College London tells Today we shouldn't expect lower energy bills are a result. That's because energy suppliers are selling us gas they bought at last year's prices.

     
  16.  
    06:32: Asian markets

    Asian stock markets have had a mixed session. They Nikkei 225 is up more than 2%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng is up 1.4%. Shares in Shanghai have fallen back after hitting a four-year high in early trading. The Shanghai composite is down 0.1%.

     
  17.  
    06:21: China recalculates growth
    Chinese flag

    China's economy is bigger than originally thought. The government has revised up the size of the economy in 2013 by 3.4% to 58.8 trillion yuan ($9.5 trillion). The increase was mainly accounted for by a greater contribution from the services sector. In comparison, the US economy was worth almost $17 trillion in 2013.

     
  18.  
    06:14: IAG bid for Aer Lingus Radio 5 live
    Dublin Airport

    British Airways owner, IAG is "good at integrating new airlines" says Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown. He is explaining why IAG made a bid for Aer Lingus. The Irish airline is attractive because it has lots of landing slots at Heathrow, says Mr Hunter. IAG may also have a bit more spending power because of the lower oil price, he adds.

     
  19.  
    06:06: North Sea oil jobs Radio 5 live
    Oil worker

    North Sea oil companies are cutting wages, rather than jobs at the moment, says Alan Savage chairman of recruitment company Orion Group on Radio 5 live. For agency workers wages have already been cut by up to 20%. He says that the British oil industry is highly taxed and the "government has a lot to answer for".

     
  20.  
    06:02: Russian crisis Radio 5 live
    Russian President, Vladimir Putin

    Next year is going to be grim for the Russian economy, says Craig Botham, emerging markets economist at Schroders on Radio 5 live. The economy is likely to contract 4.5%, inflation is forecast to be betweem 11% and 12%. The rouble could keep on weakening, "it's hard to see a particular floor for the currency" Mr Botham says.

     
  21.  
    05:59: Ben Morris Business Reporter

    Do get in touch. Email bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or tweet @bbcbusiness.

     
  22.  
    05:59: Matthew West Business Reporter

    Morning folks. The news the US Federal Reserve is in no hurry to raise interest rates boosted shares on Wall Street and in Asia to new highs. Meanwhile the Bank of Japan maintained its commitment to government bond buying at its last meeting of the year. And we'll be keeping an eye on the Russia rouble and oil price again today and there may be more on IAG's bid for Aer Lingus. Stay with us.

     

Features

From BBC Capital

Programmes

  • An ECG (electrocardiogram)Click Watch

    The wearable technology which could allow you to pay for goods with your heartbeat

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.