Boocock launched his Adelaide-based business “on a handshake” distribution agreement with a city-wide supermarket chain in November 2014. Hegs are now exported to New Zealand, Canada, the US, the UK, South Africa, China and Mexico, and it’s a clear example of how a small business, with a full-time headcount of only six (at the time of interviewing), can take its product to the world with the help of modern technology.
Digital tools can lower costs for small businesses to operate in a global market while also expanding their opportunities. Small businesses were once limited by geography and could service only a restricted local market. But the rise of e-commerce and m-commerce, coupled with cheaper international delivery, has made it easier to operate across borders and time zones.
Boocock says hours of research spent on professional networking site LinkedIn was crucial in understanding and penetrating those export markets. Using LinkedIn alone, Boocock identified and contacted the right people in each country who could distribute his product.
“Take the US for example. We wanted to get into Walmart, so we were able to find who they deal with as a distributor, and then we were able to find the direct contact who deals with laundry products. [Before LinkedIn], all of this would have been very difficult without cash in the bank because it would have involved lots of airline flights and overseas trips.”
Since signing the agreements, Boocock and his team have undertaken some “meet and greet” overseas travel with their new partners, but most contact is via communications technology.
Australia is a finite market and to grow we had to export. But we couldn’t have done it without getting smart about our communications.
One of Boocock’s first moves was to sign up for unlimited mobile phone plans. “We went for the call-any-country-anytime plan, and we certainly use these to the fullest extent,” he says.
Skype video calls across the internet are also often used. “There are two reasons for this,” says Boocock. “One is that it’s face-to-face, which helps build relationships, but also we are able to share our [computer] screen with them. And that means us showing our packaging, and they can share other material, such as sales figures, with us easily when we are on a call. It’s as good as having a roundtable discussion.”
The third tool is Cloud-based file sharing, which lets the Hegs team share collateral such as video and social media content produced specifically for each market. “Our partners can also share with us, which means we can work while they sleep, and we can sleep while they work.”
For Boocock, the file sharing is the perfect solution to working across time zones. While he, as Hegs chief executive, still fields phone calls at odd hours, these are kept to a minimum by the convenience of this system.
It’s an impressive journey from that day in 2012 when, while hanging out the washing at home with his wife, Boocock realised that, for many clothes, hooks would be more effective than pegs.
“I had the idea and the energy to create it,” he says. “However, Australia is a finite market and to grow we had to export. But we couldn’t have done it without getting smart about our communications.”