The beauty of being niche
By Catherine Beard, Executive Director of Export NZ.
I was lucky enough to chat with Antipodes founder Elizabeth Barbalich recently, and gleaned some invaluable nuggets of wisdom from her experience building a global natural brand.
One thing that stood out to me is the planning involved.
Before Elizabeth launched the business 12 years ago, she first undertook two years of research, planning and strategy around what brands were on the market, and how hers could be different and stand out against a very competitive marketplace.
Elizabeth’s aim was to launch a niche, organic lifestyle beauty brand with a point of difference that was about lifting the lid and escaping to nature in New Zealand.
With a background in science, and having worked for the American company that introduced laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery for over 10 years, Elizabeth had learnt a lot about best practice and making sure you’re best in class. Her husband is also a self-made man, who understood the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur and how to keep going through the challenges.
However, Elizabeth says it has still been much harder than she ever could have imagined and there have been some big lessons along the way.
“I was adamant from day one that I would export straight away, almost bypassing the NZ market. But that proved to be a bad strategy,” says Elizabeth.
“So instead we spent the first 2-3 years concentrating on building brand loyalty one person at a time. I was the face of the brand, and I still am. Getting people to understand the brand and getting the domestic market right first was critical for exporting. That meant failing fast with anything that didn’t work, getting all the necessary feedback and building confidence.
“It would be extremely difficult to export straight off the bat without a domestic market and a loyal baseline of followers.”
Australia was chosen as their first export market. “That was like being on a different planet!” says Elizabeth. “Even though it’s close to NZ, they do business very differently. You need to be really clear on your brand messaging and point of difference.”
Following Australia, they have conquered the UK, Paris, South-East Asia, have developed China through e-commerce, and are now in over 20 countries.
But it’s not been easy, especially having gone through the GFC with two distributors going under. Elizabeth says it’s very hard to find a good distributor, something many Kiwi companies hit pretty early on.
Looking forward, Elizabeth says they are aiming to be in the top 10 natural brands globally within the next five years. I’ve no doubt they will succeed.
Elizabeth’s Top Tips:
- Trade shows – we have picked up distributors at key trade shows – but you have to then meet up with them 2 or 3 times before signing. You need to make this investment as market entry is so hard. You can’t sell directly to retailers from NZ.
- Tenacity – you have to be incredibly tenacious. International distributers and retailers don’t really care that a product is from NZ – that’s just a value-add. They want products that are better quality and deliver more to the consumer than any other brands out there.
For Antipodes the main selling point was one of our trade marks, which is “Scientifically validated organic beauty”. We invest a couple of million a year into in-vitro and third party product testing. This validation is unique for a natural organic product, and acts as a key differentiator.
- Take time – you’ve got to plan and strategize – things don’t always go how you want, Kiwis are fast and agile, and international buyers don’t always work at that speed!