Clothing retailer Frank + Oak has been an exporter since the company launched in 2012. The Montreal-based company started selling online to both Canada and the U.S. and then began opening bricks and mortar locations in 2014. Today, the company ships its products to 40 countries, including the U.S., Europe, France, the United Kingdom, German and Korea.
Frank + Oak cofounder and CEO Ethan Song offers some advice for other exporters, based on his experience to date:
When and why did you first start thinking about exporting as part of your business?
We’ve been global from day one, because the competition is global and opportunities are global. What the Internet offers is the ability to go directly to your customer.
What was your export journey like to get to where you are today?
Being a growing brand in the U.S. has definitely helped us get to where we are going. I don’t think we could have moved this fast without them. The market and media in the U.S. is a lot bigger, giving you greater visibility.
What is the biggest difference between selling in Canada and selling in another country? How did you adapt to that difference?
Different countries have different expectations in terms of shipping and customer service. For example, the U.S. is more advanced terms of customer service. Customers there are used to faster shipping and quicker customer service. We just need to make sure our standards are at the level of the country in which we do business.
How has exporting changed the way you market/sell your products/services in Canada?
It makes a big, big difference. Our brand, in terms of exposure, has always seemed a lot bigger than if we only started in Montreal. Right away, people in Montreal saw this was a product that people in Los Angeles and New York wanted. It helps to build a global brand.
What have you learned from exporting that has benefitted your sales/operations in Canada?
It goes back to what I said about the U.S. being ahead in terms of speed of delivery. In Canada, we’re aligning our business to be competitive in a tougher market.
Can you share the best lesson learned from a bad exporting experience?
I can’t say there have been any, really. There have been a few hiccups along the way, but nothing too unexpected.
When it comes to exports, what do you know now that you wish you knew then?
I didn’t know how easy it would be to sell to the U.S. I always thought it would be a much bigger challenge. I think, when you realize how similar the customer can be — and with social media and access to easy-use-platforms — you can really build a clientele without being there. I think a lot of people think they need a local presence. You don’t.
What is the #1 thing new SMEs need to know about exporting and trade?
We are a big importer as well. You just need to understand the rules that apply on how you do business, because both importing and exporting can come with significant costs. I think a lot of people see it as an afterthought. No matter what business you’re in, it can really chip away at your margins.
What is the one characteristic that you believe every exporter should possess?
Awareness. You need to be highly aware of the local differences in each market and understand the local business culture. It can be subtle, but also still very important.