In this series we interview Managing Directors who have made export work for their business. But, they’re not afraid to share some of the challenges they have encountered along the way.
CEO and Company Founder: Gilbert Groot
Company: JLM Lubricants. They design, formulate and distribute motor products to the automotive aftermarket. Their products are developed for the professional motor mechanic.
Products sold: In 2018 alone JLM launched 7 new products
Head Office: Amsterdam
At the very beginning (the early 90’s) we were exporting auto gas kits to Germany, but this was simply because we used to have a monopoly of sorts on some items. We began actively exporting to new markets starting with Poland. Because we did not have existing contacts in Poland we placed some small advertisements in a national newspaper. And we got some responses from which I managed to set 4 appointments in my hotel in Warsaw. That was the start of it all!
Well it was quite straightforward because we kept it very simple. We knew the market was starting to open up for our products; high quality products for the professional motor mechanic to use to solve problems with vehicle engines, DPFs, exhausts etc and to improve performance. We brand our products as prevention and cure! From the beginning we marketed our products as being those the trade could trust. However it was trial and error finding out how we could get the attention of the right people.
No. We kept it low budget. It did cost time in that we had to be very patient but this paid off in the end.
Back then everything proved to be a challenge without Google and mobiles! It started with communication. English was not a universal language at the time so we worked with translators to provide as much product information as possible in the language of the country we were exporting to. This is no different today. You have to localize everything you do – as much as you realistically can. After finding the right potential customer, the second biggest challenge was to get the right message across. We had to ensure the key people we were targeting understood our products; why they were the best; their attributes and selling points. Then we had to ensure they agreed and understood our conditions of sale and delivery terms. Logistics were generally handled by the customer so in that respect there were no real challenges for us.
Yes, the distribution chains can vary significantly from country to country! First and foremost it is crucial to understand the business of each one of our distributors and how the JLM products they sell go to market. What steps are taken until the products are in the hands of the end-customer? And is there sufficient margin at all these stages? Do the logistics align with the chain of supply? What are the roles within the chain to market? Who does what (sales, marketing, logistically) and how active are they to get the products to the end user? Sometimes this can be quite complicated or it can be relatively straightforward. But in any case it always pays off if you take the time to thoroughly research the stages your product has to pass through to get to market. Only then can you advise your distributor and other resellers. We have a very active and quick to respond marketing team so we can address the different stages in different ways.
At present we are distributing to all countries in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Israel, Brazil , and Nigeria. In total 21 countries. Our network is steadily growing around the globe.
It is crucial to understand the culture and business ethics in your target market and act accordingly. Your way is probably not their way. Find out what is.
Visit in person as soon as you can. Your potential distributors will appreciate the fact you have taken the time and effort to explore a mutually beneficial business opportunity.
We are working hard on building our brand globally. The objective is to have our brand in every country where motor vehicles are driven!
Well, personally I am intrigued by other cultures. So working in an international environment is a real treat for me. Sometimes I jokingly say, ‘the world is my playground’. It does hold truth because that’s how I experience it. I get my energy from people that adopt the JLM brand and that love the products we develop. It makes me super proud and motivates me to push on harder. Of course I also have a life, in which I am a proud dad of two daughters and totally love sports especially kickboxing.