How To Succeed In The World’s Most Attractive Market For Business

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Many a U.K. business has found it impossible to resist the allure of the U.S. — often with less than ideal results. Retail group Marks & Spencer’s ill-fated acquisition of the preppy clothing brand Brooks Brothers, which it sold in 2001 for a third of the amount it paid for it 13 years earlier, is one of the clearest examples of how it can go wrong. But there have been many others. No doubt, as the urge to grow fuels expansion plans, there will be still more.

But a new book suggests that the U.S. does not have to be a graveyard for companies from the U.K., or indeed anywhere else. In Make It In America, Matthew Lee Sawyer, a strategist and consultant whose business, Rocket Market Development, helps companies identify opportunities and succeed in U.S.markets, sets out a few pointers for avoiding disaster. Among the success stories he recounts are how a Turkish immigrant rose from running a feta cheese company to buying a bankrupt dairy factory and creating Chobani, which within five years became the top-selling yogurt in America, and how the Korean industrial company Hyundai broke into the U.S. auto market.

But he also illustrates how things can go wrong. One of his case studies focuses on Alpina, a Colombian dairy and food company that decided to expand to the U.S. in 2007, encouraged by the idea that the country had a growing Hispanic population and a yogurt market that was worth $6 billion and growing at 12 to 15% a year. It saw the competition as two French brands, Danone and Yoplait, and, according to Sawyer, totally missed the rise of Chobani, a less sweet, thicker style of yogurt that was launched in the same year as Alpina entered the U.S. market and changed American tastes, quickly growing to sales of $460 million and a 10% share of the market. Alpina still operates in the U.S., but its products are mainly in specialist stores catering to Latin American consumers and, according to research quoted in the book, has sold no yogurt after 2019.

Among the differences between the two businesses are that Alpina built a factory — saddling itself with high costs and challenging debt terms that in turn meant it had to be aggressive in its plans — while Chobani’s founder bought for a competitive price an existing one that was being abandoned by a business that was pulling out of the yogurt market. In contrast with Alpina, Chobani expected success to be slow in coming and was surprised when it happened quickly, giving it the cash to aid further expansion and to avoid complicated financing deals. But these are factors that can determine success or failure wherever a business is located.

The value of Sawyer’s boom is in reminding readers of two often-quoted but frequently forgotten or ignored axioms. The first is that, although English is still the main language in the U.S. it is not exactly the same as that spoken in the U.K.. Companies that think, for example, that they do not need to adjust their sales brochures or have a a different website are very much mistaken. The second is that the U.S. is not one market, but several different ones. The markets are largely defined by geography but also — as Sawyer explains — by the origins and attitudes by the dominant groups in their populations. Companies that do not seek to understand such nuances, along with a general appreciation of American culture, can end up missing out on opportunities.

In the end, though, luck and timing must play a part in whether a venture is a success or not — in the U.S., just as elsewhere. If Alpina had got in a bit ahead of Chobani things might have worked out differently. Similarly, Hyundai might not have fared so well had it launched in the U.S. a decade or so earlier. But by the mid-1980s when it did introduce its first car, Americans were falling out of love with their gas-guzzling vehicles and were perhaps more open to a newcomer. Even so, it took a hard sell on Hyundai’s history, some innovative advertising and — perhaps most important — some keen pricing to win over the public.



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