The Articulate Gallery takes childrens' pictures off the fridge door and places them in a frame, on the wall, in an instant. We caught up with them to hear about how they're just scratching the surface of the US market.
What does your company do?
The company is mainly concerned with the design, manufacture and distribution of The Articulate Gallery which is an award-winning range of slot-sided picture frames especially for the display of 2D and 3D children’s artwork. It takes childrens' pictures off the fridge door and places them in their rightful place, in a frame, on the wall, in an instant. The children gain a sense of achievement when they see their artwork properly showcased, which in turn benefits their development.
When was your company launched, who by and why?
The company started selling these frames to the UK schools market in 2008 where they were met with a degree of success. Myself and my wife quickly found ourselves on TV in BBC2s “Dragon’s Den” where we got the smallest investment ever recorded of £30.00.
The company is now run solely by me but has an office in New Jersey and a distribution center there from where all the US sized frames are shipped. The company holds the design rights for the product and by following proven routes to market intends to sell it globally. We value creativity and the arts, and are confident this project will really take off internationally.
How long has the company been exporting?
Since launch to the UK retail market in January 2010 this product has met with great success and has been found in a diverse array of over 300 UK retailers from The Victoria and Albert Museum to Paperchase. With such success and a growing number of international enquiries, the company decided to step into the European and US markets. The frames are now available in 26 European countries and in the USA since launch in 2014.
What do you currently export, and where to?
I export ‘The Articulate Gallery’ picture frames all over Europe, Scandinavia, Singapore, UAE, USA, Canada, Ireland, Latvia and I am working on others, with negotiations with Chinese retailers ongoing.
What motivated you to start selling overseas, and how long did it take?
I won a UKTI (now DIT) award for growth for export in 2012 which allowed me to carry out an OMIS (Overseas Market Introduction Service) report and I chose USA as there is no language barrier and it is such a huge market. I think they may have come up with ‘fridge door art’. It became apparent that the US market would welcome our products and so I set to work. The US is now responsible for two thirds of the business and demand there is set to quadruple in 2017.
What is the easiest part of exporting?
For me, fulfilment is made really straightforward because I have a fantastic third party fulfilment centre in New Jersey.
And the most challenging part?
Setting up is a real challenge, forming a company, getting a bank account and forming relationships with new customers is a challenge from a distance.
Have language barriers, currency changes, etiquette and culture ever caused you any difficulties? How did you overcome them?
Yes, I travelled to Milan in 2010 to exhibit at a trade show, I learned my pitch in Italian however without the ability to write to customers in Italian, it made them disinterested in working with me. I haven't managed to overcome this as yet however choosing other more receptive markets has been straightforward enough. Attending international trade shows in Frankfurt has proven fruitful. Amazon also fulfil European consumer orders for me.
There are plenty vehicles out there to help deal with currency matters but the best move for me was to get a US bank account. I intend to set up an office and distribution centre in central Europe to mirror the US effort. One of the biggest drawbacks to being overseas is the internet connection, my business is in ‘the cloud’ and sometimes you just can’t connect when overseas. It is improving but still an obstacle. I think we are spoiled in the UK.
Did you get any support when you wanted to trade abroad? Who from, and was it helpful?
I received great advice from Business Gateway and Scottish Enterprise and it was indeed helpful. They helped me set up in the US with the State of New Jersey. I am in talks with Germany, Italy and Swiss Trade and Invest, and they are keen to help too.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets?
Just do the research and get on with it, there’s little to be afraid of. Also, there are plenty of people who will help if you just ask. Mentors are very helpful.
Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in 5 years’ time?
I am currently exploring the Asia market as I manufacture there and it holds a great deal of potential. I have just returned from a trade mission to Frankfurt where I met enthusiastic buyers and distributors from France, Switzerland, USA, Germany, China, Canada, Sweden. The US market will be the making of Articulate though, I have barely scratched the surface and found it a very hungry market. In 5 years’ time, I will have more products on the list and expect that turnover and profit will have increased tenfold.
Articulate have been shortlisted for an award at the HSBC Scottish Export Awards 2017 in association with Scottish Enterprise. Book your tickets now and join us to celebrate international trade.