Are international sales the answer to offset depressed domestic demand? My response is a resounding ‘yes’, with caution that it is not a short-term answer or a quick fix.

Are international sales the answer to offset depressed domestic demand? My response is a resounding ‘yes’, with caution that it is not a short-term answer or a quick fix.

We have a depth of creative and design talent in the UK which, combined with our British brand DNA, is a very potent export blend.

I have been fortunate to work for more than 20 years on international expansions across most continents,
in technology, nutrition, consumer electronics and now fashion. The lessons have been fantastic and equally inspired from both failures and successes.

There is a lot of business planning needed in researching markets for sales and profit potential. However, there is no substitute for building an experienced team, detailed consumer and competitor research and a clear brand, proposition and targeted product range. Strong brands will ultimately succeed, especially those like Hobbs, which has such a rich heritage.

Some will say you can do better internationally than domestically. Experience tells me the only way to expand is from a position of strength and clarity, understanding what your customers want, feel and desire.

For Hobbs this is about beautiful, contemporary, quality and affordable fashion, all complemented with exceptional personal service and a seamless in-store and online experience. It then becomes a question of where to start, focus and honing your resources.

I learned a lot in my first international expansion in the US in the 1990s. Back then the need to think long-term while keeping your feet firmly grounded and quickly developing local content and relationships was pivotal. We had designed a new raw material for consumer electronics and before we knew it, it had become a worldwide opportunity driven by customer enquiries. Following a six-month honeymoon in the US, we went through the first of three serious waves of competition, as our customers sought alternatives and more local content. Thankfully, we had a commercial model and plan to maintain our competitiveness. The US is an exceptional market, but be ready for the competitive rollercoaster.

You quickly learn each country and region brings its own distinct requirements. In China, the need to think long-term is even greater. They plan and think on a 10 to 20-year basis, something alien to our culture and investment expectations. However, a wonderful sales opportunity exists based on their positive view of our tradition, innovation, quality and craftsmanship.

The Hobbs team has an international pedigree and experience of designing products and content for specific customer groups in our target markets.

Our Italian shoe factory and existing international relationships, combined with the data collected from selling into more than 40 countries, gives us instant feedback. Sales will always build confidence.

International expansion is becoming increasingly important, not only for a company’s successful growth but to ensure the UK retail sector remains strong and profitable. As retailers, we are exceptionally good at detail and reacting quickly to new opportunities.

Combined with brand development and technology tools, you can create a very powerful blend. We just need confidence and resilience to go forward and make it happen.

  • Iain MacRitchie is the chairman of Hobbs