Maggy-Nadyne Lamarche is the president of Kissy Booboo – a Saint-Amable based company that produces and retails a teddy bear that relieves children’s pain.
When and why did you start thinking exporting might be right for your business?
We started the process to begin exporting in November 2014. At the time, I filled out a questionnaire designed to recruit young entrepreneurs for a trade mission to France. I applied even though I wasn’t in the right age group, and I was chosen for the mission, which took place in March 2015.
I used it as a kind of market research initiative. To my surprise, our product was already known over there, and two distributors were interested in it from our very first visit. In fact, we’re in the process of signing an agreement with one of them.
How did your exporting experience evolve to take you where you are today?
When we returned from the trade mission, we started an accreditation process for the company and the product so that our teddy bear would be officially recognized as a medical device. We obtained the certification in April 2016.
In March 2016, we took part in another economic mission to France, where we met with pharmacists to discuss the possibility of selling our teddy bears in pharmacies, as we do in Quebec. After inquiring, we realized that it was a major market, and we’re currently evaluating possible partnerships. We’re also considering children’s shops and online stores as sales platforms.
What is the biggest difference between selling in Canada and selling abroad? How did you adapt?
We found that Europeans place great value on safety standards and on a product’s place of origin. We’ve had to adapt and verify the origin of the fabrics we use so they can be certified.
The fact that the bear is made in Quebec is a plus on the French market, as is the use of organic grain in its composition. This has less of an impact over here.
How has exporting changed the way you promote and sell your products and services in Canada?
It will have a huge impact in the coming months. Opening ourselves up to other markets has allowed us to see what we do well and what we could do better. The experience we gain will help us position ourselves differently.
The design of our teddy bear was also changed in March 2016 to offer a product that squares better with European tastes. We now offer two models: one with stimulating contrasting colours, and the other with soothing paler colours.
What has exporting taught you that has had a beneficial effect on your operations and sales in Canada?
Through exports, we expect to triple our turnover in three years. The truth is that before 2014, I held back my company’s growth to devote myself to my family. I chose to have my business support my family instead of the opposite. My daughter is fine now, so I’m free to focus on Kissy Booboo and seek maximum growth.
What is the best lesson you’ve learned from a bad exporting experience?
One of the distributors who approached us in France turned out to be having financial difficulties, so we had to cut negotiations short, which was certainly a setback for us. The company’s proposal had seemed very attractive and would have allowed us to branch out into all of Europe. However, when I took a look at their financial statements, I realized they were generating a lower annual profit than Kissy Booboo with annual sales of 25 million!
Looking back, it’s a good thing we pulled out from these discussions. Now, we demand more guarantees from potential partners.
What do you know about exporting today that you would have liked to know when you started out?
Doing business with French officials is time-consuming! I’m a woman of action, and I like when things happen efficiently, but export procedures are really slow. Simple exchanges can have a response time of several weeks! In Québec, we probably would’ve been on the verge of signing an agreement after two weeks of discussions. In France, we’ve been negotiating for a year. Nevertheless, I’m confident this will all pay off eventually.
What is the most important thing a new SME should know about exporting and international trade?
Funding is your lifeblood. Luckily, with Kissy Booboo, I’d been putting money aside for exporting, which allowed me to invest without needing to borrow from various organizations. However, we’ll definitely need that money to go into production. Our first order should be for approximately 25,000 units, which represents a full year of production to be carried out in just two weeks. And that’s not counting the usual level of production for the Canadian market.
In your opinion, what qualities should all exporters have?
Patience, definitely. I’m usually a fast mover. This is the first time in my career as an entrepreneur that I’ve had to adapt to a slower pace. I am very determined, and I’m sure there is a place for us there. We won’t give up just because we’ve experienced setbacks; quite the opposite. Determination is also very important. It’s what helps you overcome bureaucracy and obstacles.