How a successful US business became a global brand
Many sellers are eager to take their successful US businesses global but aren’t sure how to do so without overcommitting their already limited resources. For David Laubner, Blink’s Senior Manager of Sales and Marketing, Amazon simplified taking his company’s brand from the US across Europe. “Amazon FBA allowed us to get our product out to millions of people, and to do it quickly and efficiently,” he says. By breaking its growth into Europe into four key stages, the home security camera company generated impressive sales and proved to investors that its product has global reach. “We’re going to easily double our business again in Europe this year,” David says.
From semiconductor manufacturer to global Internet of Things (IoT) brand
Going from a B2B semiconductor manufacturer to a global Internet of Things (IoT) brand in four years sounds improbable, but for the founders of Blink, a home security camera company based outside Boston, building a global product was only a matter of time.
“We always wanted to go direct to consumer,” explains Don Shulsinger, Senior Manager of Sales and Marketing. “We knew our technology would allow battery-operated cameras, which hadn’t really been done before. So we took the technology that we had and decided to build Blink.”
Meanwhile, the company felt increasingly frustrated working with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).
“They’re slow to move. It can take literally years before a great technology idea shows up with a third party’s brand,” Don says.
In July 2014, to test out its DIY home security camera concept, the company ran a successful Kickstarter campaign. “In six weeks, we sold over $1 million worth of products to around 7,000 customers,” Don says.
Realizing they were onto something, company founders garnered additional investors, put together their supply chain, and opened sales channels through Amazon.com and their own website, before officially launching their flagship product at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
We had European customers on our Facebook page asking when they could buy our product.
Senior Manager, Blink
Going global, starting with Europe
“We always knew there was a market in Europe for our product, because our competition was doing very well there,” says David Laubner, senior manager of sales and marketing. “It was important for us to be an early mover into the marketplace.”
The company had also heard directly from European customers eager to buy its cameras.
“We had European customers on our US Facebook page asking us when we were going to deliver a localized version of the product in their region,” David says.
Having already enjoyed success selling on Amazon’s US marketplace using Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), the choice to expand into Europe with Amazon was a no-brainer for Blink.
“What we needed to do was figure out a way to take what we had done in the United States and move it into the European marketplace,” David says. “But we also had to make it easy enough for a small team of a handful of us to be able to pull off without getting swamped, because we still had our business to run in the US.”
So how does a small American business with no prior European experience pull off a successful launch?
HERE ARE THE FOUR MAIN STEPS THAT BLINK TOOK:
Step 1: Understand the European market
Before committing to launching in Europe, Blink performed extensive online research to understand the market opportunity and competitive landscape.
“The hardest thing for a small US company to do is take that first step to get over into the new region,” David says. “We used Amazon’s retail sites and tools to understand if there was market demand for our products and then to build a plan for how we’re going to enter.
“We researched European markets from the eyes of a consumer physically located in Paris or Berlin or London to gain some insight as to what our competition was doing on local ecommerce marketplaces.”
As part of its initial research, Blink gleaned insights about the local marketplaces by exploring products in its category on Amazon’s European sites, including Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, and Amazon.fr.
“You can see how other companies are referring to their products. What do they put in their titles, their detail pages, the keywords that they’re using?” David says. “That helps you to understand how the local consumer searches for—and thinks about—your product.”
Step 2: Develop a marketplace entry strategy
After establishing familiarity with the local opportunity and competition, the next step for Blink was to develop a strategy for entering the European marketplace.
“Instead of getting a third-party logistics provider, getting shipping and distribution in place, etc., Amazon allowed us to get initial products into the market without having to make a large investment of people and time,” David says.
Blink determined that the best way to enter Europe was to launch first on Amazon’s UK marketplace with FBA.
“We wanted to first go into the easiest market for a US company, which is the UK,” David says. “For us, language is a big issue, so to go from an English-speaking country into another English-speaking country just makes it easy.”
Step 3: Launch in the UK first
By November 2016, having decided to begin with the UK, Blink’s next step was the actual launch, including sending inventory to the UK.
“We first moved our product into Amazon’s UK fulfillment centers,” David says. “We had already learned how simple things were when using FBA for our US business, so it was natural for us to start in the UK using FBA Europe.”
Another part of this stage involved taking Blink’s product listings from Amazon.com to Amazon.co.uk. “We applied a lot of the same principles we used in the US, along with research we had done on the UK to optimize and localize our detail pages for the UK customer,” he says.
Simplified listings and pricing management
The Build International Listings (BIL) tool helps you manage your listings across North America and Europe by adding offers and synchronizing pricing.
After getting its listings live, Blink used different Amazon tools, including Sponsored Products and Lightning Deals, to generate initial sales in the new marketplace. “Everything we do is about ABS—always be selling,” David says.
Step 4: Scale across Europe
Approximately six months after launching in the UK, Blink was ready to launch on Amazon’s four other European marketplaces. The company began by translating its listings into other languages, taking into consideration country-specific findings from earlier market research.
“Each country has its own nuance,” David explains. “For example, the way that a consumer would search for your product in Spain is not the same as in France or Germany.”
In terms of fulfilling orders, Amazon’s European Fulfillment Network
required no additional effort from Blink. “We were able to just open the listings and have those listing sales pull from the inventory in the UK and ship to consumers in the other countries,” David says. “It’s almost a no-brainer for us to start selling across Europe that way.”
However, Blink soon upgraded its fulfillment method to Pan-European FBA, given the importance of fast delivery times—and Prime eligibility—to sales conversion.
“Similar to the US, European consumers expect speedy delivery,” David says. “If a customer has to wait four or five days for a package, we’re at a disadvantage, because our competition is already providing faster delivery speed. Pan-European FBA helps ensure that our listings are Prime-eligible across all five European marketplaces.”
Blink’s tips for entering Europe
Since launching in Europe in 2016, Blink doubled its European sales in 2017 and expects to double its sales again in 2018.
“We were surprised how quickly our European business grew,” David says. “To build a multimillion-dollar business with minimal boots on the ground is amazing.”
David and Don offer the following advice to sellers:
- Research the opportunity.
“Do an initial internet search of the local marketplaces to gain insights regarding the local opportunity and requirements.”
- Use Amazon promotional tools to maintain consumer interest and search rankings.
“We’ve always got something happening promotion-wise, something we offer the consumer so that they say, ‘Hey, there’s something different today, there’s something going on.’”
- Consider finding a local expert.
”The long-term winning strategy is to have boots on the ground. In every country, eventually, you’re going to need someone that knows the nuances of the local market. We were lucky enough to find an excellent partner that was based in Ireland who had experience in our category, knew how to help us grow the business on a day-to-day basis, and could manage the details of selling in Europe.”
*Following Blink’s 2014 launch and ongoing success, it was acquired by Amazon in November 2017.