Business entrepreneur Jackie Fast has a strong track record on working with major brands to get their key messages across and open up new markets for their products. Particularly in her days running an international sponsorship business. She is now looking to apply those same skills to her own new brand. REBEL Pi. A premium Canadian ice wine made from Roussanne. Here she explains the steps any brand, or business, should look to take when looking to open up new markets.
Jackie Fast shares her experience as a business entrepreneur on the steps businesses should ideally take to introduce their brands and products to new countries around the world, including her very own REBEL Pi ice wine.
It’s no secret the world is getting smaller presenting a significant opportunity for businesses – especially independent brands and wineries. Where overheads and travel expenses were once cost prohibitive, digital technology and cheaper travel has provided an opportunity to build your brand abroad.
The trick however isn’t identifying the opportunity, but instead, executing it profitably.
I currently run three businesses with international reach and have helped many clients build successful communities and business interests abroad. Taking a wine product to a new market is no different, and I’d argue even easier because people actually want to drink the stuff (comparing to when I previously sold sponsorship of a television show about taxi cabs in Ghana to a Japanese brand).
But easy as it may seem, the reality is often quite different for many whose aims is to enter and sell their product in a new market – leading to frustrations on not ‘cracking it’ yet.
I recently arrived back from a trip to Mumbai where I was successful in soft launching REBEL Pi Ice Wine in just a few short weeks – gaining several key listings with the top restaurants and a new group of wine influencers I now call friends. The execution I used for my luxury ice wine brand is one I have employed for every brand I’ve ever owned or worked for.
Here is my ultimate guide to taking your product to a new market:
Ask yourself the tough questions
Just because you can go abroad, doesn’t mean you should. Going abroad needs to be based on a rational business decision, ideally combined with a personal one (I love going to Mumbai so having REBEL Pi sold there gives me a reason to go back). Fundamentally there should be a clear objective.
Although the actual cost to enter a new market is more palatable, especially in the drinks industry where your product can be checked as luggage, the amount of time and resource required is still onerous and needs to be considered. You cannot stay in a city for a couple days, or even a week, once a year and expect to gain traction.
Global brands spend millions to develop a new market, so if you aren’t planning on spending, then you must make up for it with hours. If you don’t have time because your priority is growing your current market, then going abroad is likely futile.
If you are able to invest then ensure you have considered what sacrifices you may need to make. For example, launching in a new market is like launching for the first time. Those initial sales are often challenging and typically come with price reductions. If you are not willing to reduce the price in a new market because you can sell the same bottle at home, then you may want to reconsider whether taking your product abroad is right for you.
Where do you go?
Through the joy of the internet you no longer have to guess what market is best, but it’s important to do your research. A booming wine market will have many more competitors and if your product doesn’t stand out, the challenges of not being physically there may be difficult to overcome. Each market has different areas of opportunity, nuances that can’t be read online.
Finding someone actively working in the new market you are trying to infiltrate is a critical part of research. A Skype call is much cheaper than arriving cases in hand with no one to sell to aside from the receptionist in your hotel.
I have been travelling to Mumbai for work for the past six years. I love the energy. It reminds me of how London felt when I arrived with a backpack 15 years ago. I know first-hand how entrepreneurial the city was and how luxury is becoming much more accessible. With over 18.4 million people living there, I also know there are buyers.
As a foodie, I spent every spare second of every business trip eating out and had already met a number of restaurateurs and chefs along the way.
Finally, having had the support of private members club Soho House for all of my career iterations and them recently launching a new House in Mumbai, it became an obvious choice for me to start there. It didn’t hurt that it was also a great opportunity to get out of the grey of London and onto a pool lounger at the Taj Palace.
Make a Plan
It’s critical to have a plan in advance of arriving to ensure time is maximised. Personally, I also need a plan so I don’t accidentally slip into holiday mode, which is too easy to do with the sea breeze in your face and Michelin-star tasting menus costing £20.
Running a tasting event ensured I had a reason to speak to people, put a fixed date in the diary, gave me an opportunity to offer something rather than take people’s time, and made it easier to schedule additional meetings in advance of the REBEL Pi Ice Wine event. It’s also not accidental that we used Mumbai House, having only just opened and most people keen to check it out.
With a tasting event booked in, I then reached out to everyone I had ever met in Mumbai outlining what REBEL Pi Ice Wine was all about, when I was arriving, and what I was hoping to achieve during my stay. The strict alcohol rules in India make it impossible to bring your product into the country without an importer so ensuring we met with every single importer was critical to my plan being successful.
Ensure your plan fits the culture
Indians are known for not being punctual, and their flexible concept of time is often jokingly referred to as “Indian Stretchable Time”, which is why I ensured I was accessible and there long enough to reschedule meetings when necessarily. Of the 10 meetings I had set up: six of them were rescheduled, two of them twice; nine of them were late – one of them was two hours late, another was one hour late, but then rescheduled to meet at 11pm which was five hours later; only one was on-time. If my schedule had been rigid, I would have missed almost all the meetings.
On the positive, everyone in India is happy to meet, interested in helping, and loves to learn so it wasn’t surprising that in my first meeting with a retailer, upon discovering we didn’t have an importer, he pulled out his iPhone and started providing me his entire black book of the wine trade. I doubled my invite list in 30 minutes.
Even better was when I cold called each one of those contacts to invite them to the REBEL Pi Ice Wine Launch (whilst travelling by rickshaw). It only took one hour and almost everyone confirmed.
By comparison in London, my experience is that typically only 10% of people would pick up a call with an unrecognised foreign number, and of those, only 5% wouldn’t brush me off. The ones that I would end up speaking to would ensure that I explained in detail what REBEL Pi was all about, why ice wine is now relevant, and a discussion on who would also be in attendance. My invite would likely not be responded to, and I’d spend weeks chasing an RSVP. It would take me months to achieve in London what I achieved in 1.5 hours in Mumbai.
“It would take me months to achieve in London what I achieved in 1.5 hours in Mumbai.”
Cultural differences exist outside of how business is done and are equally important. Indians love their food, so whilst a food pairing wasn’t necessary for the REBEL PI Ice Wine Club we held in London, it was mandatory in Mumbai or the guests would have been up in arms (when they finally arrived).
I also knew many high-end restaurants had their chef come out to greet diners (especially if you are foreign); therefore I ensured every night I went out (which was every night) I had business cards, marketing material, and mini sample bottles of REBEL Pi Ice Wine in my handbag.
This was the first time I was in Mumbai trying to build my ice wine brand, and although we were successful with a number of restaurants wanting to list it and interest from retailers, I am under no illusion that I need to be back again soon. In the meantime, I remain active on social media with all my Mumbaikars to ensure they remember why they love the product. I expect to be back there before the end of the year– likely to coincide with the weather!
- If you would like to know more about Jackie Fast and her REBEL Pi premium Canadian ice wine brand, then you can contact her here firstname.lastname@example.org