Silver Crystal Sports Inc.’s export journey can be best compared to the hockey play, go deep and drop back.
The Toronto-based company has taken its innovative sports jersey lettering capabilities and retail kiosk business to the other side of the globe, specifically Down Under and is now navigating markets back towards North America. In doing so, the company is executing a ‘go-deep’ approach integral to its export strategy from day one, explains co-CEO Jeff Silver.
“Australia has been our test model,” says Silver. “If we can go to the furthest place away from where we are located and make it work, then working backwards to Canada shouldn’t be that difficult.”
The development of a creative solution for one of its main customers led to the company’s innovative global value proposition in the hotly competitive $12-billion global sports memorabilia industry.
“The challenge with sports jerseys is determining what players will be in demand at any given time,” Silver says. “Figuring out a way to bring in a number of blank jerseys and having them built on-site in real-time was what we came up with.”
The company’s resulting ‘Silver Crystal Sports Fanzones’ offer turnkey, customized letter and numbering solutions for jerseys, complete with retail kiosks and heat press machines.
“We draw attention to the ability to buy any name of any player at any time,” Silver explains.
Ian Howcroft, Ontario vice president at Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME), applauds the initiative of firms like Silver Crystal Sports, and says, “Finding your niche and offering a solution for your customer is key to success in global markets.”
Silver Crystal Sports co-CEO Adam Crystal notes, “Our Fanzone stadium customization system, allows custom jerseys to be delivered faster than (via) the Internet.”
The company’s novel service offering initially got the attention of NHL teams south of the border, which saw value in the ability to take control of inventory. Today, Silver Crystal Sports has customers in every professional North American sport. In total, there are more than 400 machines in Canada and the U.S, its major export market.
“The bulk of our business is in the U.S,” says Silver. “It accounts for 90 per cent of total sales and that makes sense, because it is a market of more than 300 million with approximately 114 professional sports teams.”
Fulfilling export orders came with its challenges, including a need to properly complete all required customs paperwork. The resulting education and experience has proved invaluable, however, and prepared the company for smooth and continuing market expansion.
“Regardless of what country you are shipping to, it’s still a lot of work, so we’ve partnered with people who understand our business and who make it easier for us,” says Silver.
However, Silver notes the company also had to educate U.S. customers.
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“I’ve had many ask where Canada is, and if they would get into trouble for dealing with a Canadian company,” he says. “We’ve had to educate our customers that we’re the same as they are – we just live on the other side of the border and we have factories, not igloos.”
The same can’t be said for Australia, the company’s first market beyond North America. Despite cultural differences and Australia’s distant geographic location, many of the firm’s Australian customers are quite familiar with Canada, according to Silver. The company’s development of strategic in-market partnerships has helped add to the brand’s familiarity among its Aussie clients.
“We met a contact at a Major League Baseball All-Star game in New York and the next thing you know, we’re heading across the world,” Silver says. “While we share the same language and for the most part the culture, Australia is different than Canada and the U.S.”
The biggest difference – Australians’ near fanatical devotion to sports.
“Australia is a completely untapped market, and they are sports rabid,” says Silver. “It’s not the same mindset as the North American market. Sports rivals family. It’s pretty unreal.”
A mere decade ago, a focus on the Australian market would have been doubtful for Silver Crystal Sports. The rapid evolution of digital and logistical capabilities changed everything.
“While it is far away, in today’s technological age we can ship to Australia in 24 to 48 hours,” adds Silver. “Time is the currency of 21st century and the expectation is get it to me now and don’t delay. That’s why it’s critical to ensure you partner with a logistics expert that understands product movement, sensitivities, and most importantly, timeframes.”
Among his efforts Silver is now dealing with market sensitivities as the firm breaks into the European market, where he says companies and customers are very “protective” of local suppliers.
“Europe would be huge, but it’s a tough market for us to break into,” says Silver.
As a result, Silver Crystal is leveraging local partnerships in Europe and elsewhere to help expand its global footprint.
“The NBA has a huge international global business and it’s very popular in Asia right now,” he adds. “We will work with our partners to develop a market presence. That’s the key to global business today.”