Adrien Lavoie is the CEO of Wooki, eBay’s 2011 Young-Preneur of the year and eBay’s 2016 Micro-Multinational of the year.
What was your first export sale?
My first export was a pair of shoes to the U.S., but I don’t remember what shoes or what state. I never even asked myself if I should start exporting; it was a natural transition. At first, I was working with Canada Post and it’s basically the same procedure with eBay. It was one click away to ship to the U.S. I saw exporting as a bonus. Instead of making $40 or $30, you might be making $10 but that’s still $10 in your pocket.
How did that sale come about?
When it comes to exports, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
Shipping is the essence of my business so I’m always looking for better ways. Everything else works pretty smoothly with eBay.
How has the trading world changed since you started exporting?
Back in 2004, when we were shipping with Canada Post, they weren’t really accommodating customers the way they do today. Over the years, they’ve been generous and open with service, such as changing the times they pick up my packages. My goal is to ship my product as soon as I can. The Canada Post truck leaves the warehouse in Hull at 7 p.m. so I want to have a pickup time as close to that as possible. Canada Post has been helpful with that.
What is the #1 thing new SMEs need to know about export and trade?
My advice would be to just start selling on eBay and on other platforms that give you the chance to sell internationally. You have to try different opportunities. It’s really rare that things take off right away. If something doesn’t work, change your tactic and try something else. Eventually, things will work out.
How has exporting changed the way you market/sell your products/services in Canada?
I can give better service to Canadian customers because of the shipping challenges. I don’t really spend a lot on marketing. I guess the fee I pay to sell on eBay is my marketing spending.
EDC resources to help you export
What have you learned from exporting that has benefitted your sales/operations in Canada?
For me, it’s just one big marketplace, especially for shoes. Adidas and Reebok, for example, do well in Europe. Sometimes I don’t even notice what part of the world my customers are ordering from.
When it comes to shipping, some countries don’t have postal services that are as good as ours. Some are more difficult to work with, for example, Brazil, Argentina and Italy. They sometimes don’t have the tracking information that eBay might require and that customers want. You have to decide if you want to pay more or risk the package getting lost.
Also, in every country except the U.S., returns are really difficult. About 80 per cent of my sales are shoes, which sometimes don’t fit so customers have to ship them back. I can’t put return labels inside my export boxes because I use Canada Post. My returns are done on a case-by-case basis.
The other problem is that when items come back from the U.S., if a customer states it’s worth more than $100, I have to pay import fees to bring it back. I think eBay is lobbying the government on that issue. It’s a big one for Canadian businesses since we’re always buying from the U.S.
What is the biggest difference between selling in Canada and selling in another country? How did you adapt to that difference?
For me, it’s not that different. It’s just the more expensive shipping costs and challenges from returns and exchanges.
Can you share the best lesson learned from a negative exporting experience?
eBay and PayPal pretty much handle everything, but there are always grey zones where something happens and you’re left on your own with the customer. For example, if a package gets lost, but is marked as delivered — that’s an issue I have to handle. On eBay, you qualify for e-protection, but at the same time, your customer isn’t happy. I’ve learned that, in the end, you must give the customer a great experience. In spite of the little problems here and there, exporting is really worth it.