Customer focus December 09 www. bus- ex. com 9 Testimonies For one company, the success of its expansion overseas has been dependent upon a sound, reliable and honest approach to customer service. Becky Done spoke to Derek Buchanan, CEO of Episys, to find out more H ertfordshire, UK- based Episys is a global IT solutions and services company providing expertise, products, services and support for signage, labelling and mobile systems to clients across the globe. It counts such major names as Macy's and Bloomingdale's among its overseas customers; yet just a few years ago, the company was very much a UK- centred operation with a customer base to match. When Derek Buchanan became CEO of Episys in 2003, he knew he wanted to make the leap into overseas markets- but he had a less than traditional approach towards doing so. " Over the years I've taken businesses into different parts of the world. As you go along, you make mistakes," he says, " but you learn from those mistakes. So when going into new territory I do have some fairly precise methods that I think are quite unusual in terms of the way companies traditionally go into new markets." For most companies, an overseas market is a significant excellence to
10 www. bus- ex. com December 09 opportunity to grow revenue and profit through greater market share- but Buchanan believes the favoured route to achieving this is often misguided. " The traditional way is usually to raise finance for going into that market based on a business plan; that business is usually predicated around setting up an office and hiring people, maybe doing some marketing events, trade shows, etc," he explains. " Quite often, the companies end up doing all of that and come back having spent the money and not actually having achieved what they set out to achieve in terms of customers or revenue. And I thought about that and I thought, ' There's probably a different way of doing that.'" Buchanan's way of entering new markets is notably different. In North America, for example- all too often a graveyard for UK companies attempting expansion- his approach was to search out what would be regarded as an iconic brand, which in this case was the retailing giant Sears, which has around 3,900 stores across the US and Canada. " Our approach was to go to them with a compelling offering that has been proven to save money, lift sales and increase consistency in communication with the customer," explains Buchanan. " So instead of spending money on people and marketing and trade shows, we took our offering into Sears and actually invested that money with them, on the basis of providing a quality solution that met their objectives." Following the success of that initial partnership, Sears was then able to provide support in public relations and referencing activities as Episys approached other companies, with the weight of such a major retailing brand providing crucial credibility in a foreign marketplace. " It's just spending the marketing budget in a different way," Buchanan asserts, " with the outcome being that you've got a customer that is very recognisable within that market. That's your foundation and by achieving it, you then can move out into greater market share." As a result of using this model, Episys now enjoys relationships with some of North America's largest retailers- aside from Sears, Macy's and Bloomingdale's, clients include Home Depot, Bon- Ton and Belk. With names of such prestige on his client list, Buchanan is aware that the smallest details matter. " Something that people often forget is that you've got to make doing business with you easy," he insists. " So when I go to the US or Australia or any other country, I don't talk about time zones, for example; and any telephone numbers should be written in the local number... these are quite basic things. A lot of companies tend to fly to a territory that they fancy entering, have lots of meetings and then fly back- but without actually making it easy for things to happen for the local people. There's usually an indigenous alternative, so if you really want to enter [ that market] you've got to make it easy. It's a bit disrespectful to enter a country and not think about those things." This should apply to your product as well, says Buchanan. " When you are designing a product, design it to be international. Make sure the language and the way in which different cultures present and read text and information is designed into your product so that it becomes easy to go into that market. If you want to go into a new market like China or India where obviously there's many different graphical and language sets that you need to be able to manage, design that in- and then that makes it easy for you." Buchanan cites the example of UK retailer Halfords, which has recently made the move into the Czech Republic. " Your company gets stronger by learning when it makes mistakes, rather than these things going on unnoticed"