At first glance, the connection between wedding photography and paint exports seems tenuous, but Jan and Rosanne Korteland found one and developed it into a made-in-Canada success story.
In 2009, a year after emigrating from the Netherlands, the couple started a bridal photography business. Soon they were making their own frames for the wedding portraits. Then other photographers started requesting the Kortelands’ shabby-chic picture frames for their own projects and an idea for a new business started percolating.
In 2012, they began manufacturing the wooden frames and it wasn’t long before they were also being asked for paint to finish the frames. The young entrepreneurs saw a gap in the market and the opportunity to move in a new direction. In 2013, they worked with Canadian paint manufacturer, Cloverdale Paint, to develop furniture paint for the DIY market. It was launched in January 2014 under the brand Country Chic Paint (CCP), which generated $1 million in its first year.
CCP products – including paints, waxes and brushes – are available at more than 200 retailers in Canada and the U.S.
“We are right next to one of the biggest markets in the world and we knew we wanted to take advantage of it,” says Rosanne.
Online marketing attracted retailers and the Kortelands started by sending small shipments direct to the stores.
“It’s really important to have a good relationship with your shipping company,” says Rosanne, who manages the sales and marketing for the company while Jan focuses on strategy and logistics. “UPS gave us a lot of advice, like how to consolidate shipping.”
Indeed, their relationship with UPS led the package delivery company to nominate CCP for a BC Export Award. In 2015, the company won an award in the Consumer Products Category.
As volume and the number of retailers in the U.S. grew, the couple refined their supply chain by engaging Smart Warehousing in Indiana. CCP ships pallets of stock to Smart Warehousing, which has 12 distribution centres across the U.S. As CCP receives orders, it relays these to Smart Warehousing, which picks, packs, and ships orders to the retailers. CCP can track its inventory in a cloud-based system, using Smart Warehousing’s supply chain technology.
This improvement in logistics means that stores receive deliveries more quickly than if they were shipped from Canada.
“Our retailers are small and they don’t hold a lot of stock,” says Rosanne. “If they run out of our paint, they want the delivery yesterday.”
True to the online nature of their business, they found Smart Warehousing on the Internet.
Leveraging the ubiquity of social media, and the relatively low cost of marketing through these channels, also underpins CCP’s success. They got lucky early when a U.S. craft blogger [thevintagefarmhouse] with 400,000 followers used a CCP product for a project and gave it an enthusiastic review.
“Suddenly the phones started ringing – the response to that blog gave us a good start, says Rosanne. “We continue to work with bloggers, supplying paint for testing and for prizing.”
She adds that because the company generates most of its business from the Internet, it has focused its efforts on creating great content for social media. CCP’s YouTube channel features how-to videos, and the company also has a Facebook page and uses Instagram.
“This really helps to put your brand out there and because YouTube is owned by Google, it also helps search results,” says Rosanne, who keeps a keen eye on digital analytics.
Frequent updates via CCP’s Twitter handle, @CountryChicP, and email newsletters also share project advice and alert customers to new products and special offers.
“So many people spend so many hours a day on social media. Their location and our location in Duncan doesn’t have any impact on accessibility to the paint,” says Rosanne.
Originally from Papendrecht, a small town in the western Netherlands, the couple now live with their three children in Duncan (population 5,000) on Vancouver Island. The company is virtually-managed and has a spread of retailers and customers across the continental U.S. and Canada.
In 2015, CCP was featured on one of Canada’s most popular reality programs, CBC’s Dragons’ Den. Rosanne says preparing for the show made her and Jan take a long hard look at the company.
Five questions with Rosanne Korteland
1) What was your first export sale?
Our first export sale was a small retail order that we shipped to the U.S. within a few days of launching Country Chic Paint. Our first wholesale order was a couple of months later to a store in Wisconsin. This customer is still part of our network of successful retailers.
2) How did that first export opportunity arise?
These customers, like the majority of customers, especially in the beginning, found us through social media.
3) When it comes to exports, what do you know now that you wish you knew then?
The great potential of our distribution centre in the U.S. and how it makes it much easier, faster, and more cost effective. Previously we shipped each order from B.C. If we could have made the switch sooner it would have helped us, but before you do something like this you need to make sure the volume is there.
4) How has the trading world changed since you started in business?
The exchange rate has changed a lot. We have some costs in U.S. dollars but we also benefit from the lower loonie when we sell in the U.S. It impacts us both ways.
5) What is the #1 thing new SMEs need to know about export and trade?
New businesses need to see the potential. The U.S. is a big market that is relatively close and can be easily approached from Canada. You don’t have to confine yourself to Canada when there is a big market close by. When you ship make sure the documentation is correct and take care of all the brokerage fees. You don’t want your customer to be surprised with any charges that would put them off pretty quickly.