At the start of each year, like many businesses, we sit down and draw up a list of new targets.
For 2017, we decided we wanted to expand our existing distributor network. We sell a range of specialist cleaning products and anti-static paint predominantly into the electronic manufacturing and printing industries. We sell internationally and have built up a network of 19 European distributors.
Edson Electronics was established in 1989 and for a long time sold solely in the UK. However, since 2000 we recognised that our market had moved initially to Eastern Europe and now the Far East. Europe was closer so we focussed on finding companies we could work with who would sell our products within their territory. We found new distributors by a wide range of methods – recommendations, referrals, trade shows and sometimes good luck!
Back to 2017, and looking at the map on the office wall, we decided Turkey was a potential new market. I spent hours trawling through Google searches looking for potential companies in our field. There was definitely a market for our products but finding the right company to work with is always a gamble, and with translation issues it was difficult to recognise though their website whether they would be a good fit.
When I had drawn up a list of potential companies, I then started researching them on social media. Very few had a great online presence (Nicola and her Sparkle team need to expand!), so we were left with the dreaded option of cold emailing. Even the usual LinkedIn search for contacts within the company was proving difficult.
Whilst drafting my tenth practice email, the phone rang. It was one of our existing distributors based in Bulgaria looking for us to quote them for an existing customer. After getting details from them, it turned out they were quoting for a new contract in Turkey! How about that for coincidence! They had been supplying other products into Turkey and saw an opportunity to sell our products too.
We have worked with our Bulgarian Distributor since 2009 and their business with us has grown steadily over that period. They have an expanding sales team and are proactively looking for new customers. Also, quite importantly, they pay their invoices on time! They know us and we know them, so it didn't take long to draft another distributor agreement allowing them exclusive rights to sell our products in Turkey.
I was reciting the above story recently to Nicola and felt a bit sheepish that we had 'cheated' somehow in achieving our target. She soon put me right, as she does, explaining that it is a huge area of business that we all ignore – asking our existing customers for help.
We have built up relationships over time and we should utilise them, especially when both parties will benefit. The lesson; go back to your existing customers and see how else they can help you grow your business. You may already do this, but if you're one of the many small business owners who's reticent to ask, give it a go - you never know what may happen!
So, who can you call to help your business today?
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