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Project Kickstart
For years most exporters within the consumer products sector would export their products through various agents or distributors who would then seek to gain listings at supermarkets and other retailers. If things went really well the larger players would then establish their own offices and joint-ventures to be ‘closer to the market’.

Some innovative exporters, such as Fisherman’s Friend would then develop specific products to suit local tastes, such as a salmiak (salty) version for the Finnish market or the kimchi version of KitKat for the Korean market. But that kind of innovation and enterprise has, generally speaking, been rare.

Often, this is due to a lack of engagement with the market place and a bureaucratic, risk-averse culture and processes.

So, the average, larger exporter would have an organisational structure along these lines

Everybody knows their role and no one ‘rocks the boat’, but the challenge that this type of organisation simply can’t handle rapid change and certainly not all the many changes that are happening around us now.

 

These types of organisations can’t avoid mistakes if they fail to see them coming and they can’t benefit from opportunities if they are blind to them.
So they must work on their professional development, or they’ll lose out. But even if you give a leader the exact answers they need, if they lack professional development…they’ll ignore it. If you lack professional development and enterprise, real improvement always sounds scary:

 To them it looks like this: Improvement = change = risk = fear

So, they end up being overtaken and out-manoeuvred by start-ups who are closer to the markers, act quicker and see Instagram and other social media as their home ground.

The ‘organisational chart’ of these start-ups could look like something like this below. They may not have a five-year strategy and an eight-page procurement policy, but they tend to be closer to their markets and are willing to learn and adapt.  And, often they start because they experienced an unfulfilled need in their daily life and decided to solve that problem, themselves.

Build Learn and measure

Danish children’s wear and toy brand Konges Sløjd demonstrates the power of the exporting startup

The company was launched in 2014 by Copenhagen-based Emilie Konge after she had her first child as she found she didn’t like the clothing and toys available for her baby and wanted “something nice to look at, while at the same time would fit into a Nordic-style home”.

In the beginning, she would make the clothing and baby mobiles herself and sell them via her personal Instagram account. As the demand grew she changed the Instagram profile into a business account and she appointed a small distributor in the other part of Denmark and the demand ‘skyrocketed’.

The business now has 900 distributors in 42 countries and more 170.00 followers on Instagram.

The company’s profits are growing almost exponentially and reached £2 million in 2019.

 Konges Sløjd takes sustainability seriously and wherever possible uses GOTS certified organic cotton. The brand’s ethical ethos is reflected in the fact that all of its products are manufactured in factories with proper working conditions.

The design philosophy is to make tasteful children’s interior design and items that bring the little ones joy, and which, at the same time, make visual sense to the parents.
Emilie Konge says,” I did not have a wealthy individual or investor behind me. That is why I only had the resources to launch a limited set of ranges. That is why there from the beginning has been an element of hype around the brand which has helped generate the interest in the products and has generated interest on social media”.

Emilie Konge and baby and a screenshot of all the wonderful Konges Sløjd Nordic products from Instagram

A brand with a purpose which also shows in the way their distributors behave. Here are some excerpts from the websites of some of their UK partners: 

Soren’s House was set up in 2016 to bring beautiful Scandinavia inspired design products to the UK. Following the recovery from a cancer scare for the six-year-old son they

We founded Beyond the Stork in 2016 after we struggled to find modern, stylish outdoor clothing and accessories for children and parents on the high street.

Beyond the Stork features a range of design-led products for you and your family – a place for stylish stuff for grown-ups and little ones alike.

We firmly believe that you shouldn’t have to compromise your style just because you have children.

A passion for Scandinavian and vintage interiors has recently led us to expand our product range to include modern and covetable homewares as we believe that mini-adventures should start at home. Our range of brands enables you to create beautiful spaces for your little ones, plus creative family spaces that reflect you and your style. Whether you spend the day making dens, discovering new worlds, dressing up, losing yourselves in stories, or simply cuddling up as a family under a cosy blanket in your pyjamas, we have everything you need. And more.

Scandibørn is our dream. It was born from a passion for Scandinavian inspired design. When our little boy, Harry, was born in 2015 we just couldn’t find the clothes, baby furniture and nursery accessories that reflected our passion for this style.

So in early 2016, we decided to follow our hearts and Scandibørn was born. We began our hunt for Scandinavian nursery decor and other Nordic-inspired baby accessories.

What is Scandibørn?

To us, Scandibørn is a lifestyle and an ethos. We want to support independent businesses while introducing talented people to the UK. Of course, we also want to do this responsibly by looking out for both the planet and the people who make our products.

So, can ‘traditional’ exporters develop a more enterprise and responsive culture and business?

Remember that The old system simply can’t handle rapid change, neither can it handle many aspects changing at the same time. Hierarchies and standard managerial process, even when minimally bureaucratic, are inherently risk-averse and resistant to change. Part of the problem is political: Managers are loath to changes to chances without permission from superiors. Part of the problem is cultural: People cling to their habits and fear loss of power and stature.

So the change requires two things
• Setting up an Enterprise Network alongside your current hierarchy
• Developing more Entrepreneurs and Producers within your organisation

The Enterprise Network

Alongside the existing hierarchy invite volunteers from across the organisation to set up specific networks/project groups. The groups should focus on specific issues which can help your organisation become more change-ready, including 

topics such as “engaging with our markets using Instagram or TikTok”, “reviewing our international partner network’ or “developing a corporate purpose”.

What is key here is that you try and involve as many people as possible – you will be amazed by the talents and skills that are hidden across your organisation.
It is also key that you try to encourage a want-to and get-to mindset and emphasise that people have the power to become change agents and feel that they have permission to do so.

Engage with people’s head and hearts. If you only appeal to logic and numbers you will simply not develop a genuine desire to contribute to positive change and give people a feeling of ownership.

 

 

Celebrate the quick successes and see your Enterprise Networks grow

Developing more Entrepreneurs and Producers

In parallel with setting up the Enterprising Networks and ensuring that the people involved are involved and engaged, you also need to develop some new skills and cultures.

The challenge with mature, traditional organisations is that they end up being risk-averse and put more emphasis on policies and on how things are being done, than on producing results.

You need to develop/hire those Entrepreneurs who are the visionaries of the organisation, seeing things on a global scale, rather than looking inwards towards the current state of the organisation and leading towards what it can be.
These individuals are crucial to the overall development of organisational strategy, allowing them to stay ahead of competitors and exploit new and unique niches in the market. These individuals have a greater vision of new opportunities and threats to the organisation and are therefore important in the process of preparing for and handling any unexpected or planned changes.

You will also need Producers who feel responsible for the finished product, and who are generally tasked with meeting all the smaller goals and objectives of the organisation, ensuring that each individual achieves what is required of them.

Remember, external crises, such as the one we are facing can be a real opportunity for able and agile exporters.

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