At Retailbound, we help clients launch their product brands with retailers in North America. For product brands that want to expand to Europe, we highly recommend they work with Unlock EMEA, Europe’s leading sales agency. This month, we sat down with Paul McCafferty, the Managing Director at Unlock EMEA to ask him the following questions.
Tell us more about Unlock EMEA? What is your role at the company?
Unlock EMEA is Europe’s leading Sales Agency that helps innovative CE brands to launch and scale in EMEA. We are a very experienced (see: old!), well-connected team of 11 people who are UK based but travel extensively. We have a great network of distributors and retailers, many of whom have become close friends.
We have helped more than 50 brands to launch and scale over the past decade, generating $250m+ in incremental revenue. We get excited about great design and innovation, which is a common theme in our brand portfolio. We are proud to have represented some of the worlds most recognized CE brands for multiple years, playing a part in making them household names here.
Our role is to bring opportunities to and then help our brands to make smart decisions on partner appointments. We tend to know where a lot of the contractual ‘give and take’ is with each distributor, so can help with sourcing a favorable agreement. Next, we actively manage those relationships for maximum impact, but in a very strategic way. Europe is fragmented and de-centralized, so we’d liken it to putting together a very complicated jigsaw puzzle, with no overlap and no gaps.
Apart from partner selection, we have a good understanding of the other key considerations necessary to make your European retail journey a 5* pleasure cruise, with considerations around packaging, compliance, commercials, marketing, contracts and local laws.
My role is Managing Director, so with support from our Founder and the leadership team, we steer the Unlock EMEA ship.
We assume as the leading European sales agency; your company gets a lot of inbound inquiries from product brands wanting you to represent them. What are the key things you look for? What are the red flags that cause you to turn down a potential client?
This is a great question and one that we could talk for hours about. In our experience, most brands underestimate the journey that they about to go on, so we take time before any formal engagement to walk through our experience and educate brands on the path ahead.
It’s fair to say that when an inbound occurs, we’ll tend to look at the product first with one key question in mind: can we get excited about it and sell it? If the answer is yes, then we move much deeper in an initial, typically hour long, call.
Our initial calls with brands are quite structured and we would seek to get a better understanding of their products, roadmap, marketing plans, vision, and urgency. We often liken building a brand to creating a nice meal, where there are many ingredients; miss one or two ingredients and we still have a chance of a great meal, miss several, or a key one, and it’s a poor meal. If we don’t think we have sufficient ingredients to make the meal, we would respectfully hit pause on the discussions and recommend that the brand ‘goes shopping’ with a specific list.
We also tend to avoid brands that operate in saturated categories and have no, or limited, USP. We do operate in the areas of protection and charging, which are hotly contested, but the brands we have opted to work with have a unique story.
The last point that I would make here is not so objective, where we seek to get a feel for the personalities of the people we will be engaging with, to work out if we are compatible. We try and set the correct level of expectation where patience is a key component.
Selling products to retailers in Europe is much different than selling to retailers in the United States. What is the typical path in European retail you recommend for your clients, especially smaller or younger brands that don’t have the resources like the major brands like Sony or Samsung?
Another great question!
EMEA is a big region, with many countries and nuances. Going after all countries on day one would be a lot of plates to spin and with limited resources, those plates will most likely crash one by one. We recommend working on 7-10 tier 1 countries first. These countries represent around 70% of your revenue opportunity for EMEA, so it’s a smart way to get started.
Once the country list is agreed, we would advocate that a brand begins with one key distributor in each country. In some cases, distributors can cover more than one country, but usually there are specialists in each region who have great capability. We have worked tirelessly for more than 10 years to understand who the right partners are and develop personal relationships. Selecting the right distributor is key to building a rock-solid foundation that will serve you well for years of profitable growth.
Once the distributor is appointed, you would create a retail plan for each country. We generally advocate for a narrow and deep approach to begin, where you would work with a smaller number of the right retailers to establish your brand. Couple this with some smart, scrappy marketing tactics and you can make a good start.
In parallel to this, it’s important to know things take time. You will need patience and money, to create a suitable runway. We are yet to meet a brand who says that they are surprised with how easy and fast it was to nail major retail partnerships in multiple countries!
With current economic environment that we have seen since COVID-19, how do you see the retail industry changing? What advice would you give to a product start-up who is thinking about entering the retail market today?
We continue to see lots of retailers having a tough time, with some sadly going out of business. Those that do survive will need to take some creative and innovative steps in their approach to differentiate and add appropriate value to their target consumer. It’s not going to be easy, but we are seeing some retailers thrive in these tough circumstances.
When it comes to approaching European retail buyers, our advice would be – if going it alone without our help (none taken!), then be creative. With less retail doors open and seemingly more brands than ever, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to cut through the noise. One UK buyer (who I won’t name) recently told me that he received more than 80 cold approach emails every day. If the emails looked cookie-cutter, careless or they waffled on with a wall of text, they’d go straight into the round-filing-cabinet aka trash.
Some further valuable advice we could give is to understand your target consumer and continually take feedback from them, refining your approach to best serve their requirements. Parallel to this, make sure that you create a bunch of world class assets (pics and video) that help you communicate that unique story in the right context.
If you feel like you are ready to go, talk to the likes of Retailbound or Unlock EMEA to run through the check list and test your assumptions, potentially saving on some costly mistakes. Hiring good people who have ‘been there, done it’ and can demonstrate a track record of success is a smart way to start.
Retailbound and Unlock EMEA has worked together on mutual clients. What do you like about working with Retailbound? How is Retailbound different from other agencies that you and your clients may have worked with before?
We think the key word here is integrity and Retailbound demonstrates that in abundance.
Reputation is everything in this industry and you do not exist for multiple years by doing a bad job. Retailbound, like Unlock EMEA, has a longstanding reputation for being a trusted expert. We appreciate that you take time to educate a brand on the journey they are about to go on, setting sensible expectations and then delivering to/beyond those levels.
The world of sales reps and agents can be a tough place to navigate for a scale up brand and we are often tarnished with the same brush as many others, yet the quality of service delivered is vastly different from one company, or person, to the next.
Retailbound and Unlock EMEA don’t tell brands what they want to hear, we share information with brands that they need to know, based on multiple years of experience.
Interested in learning more about how Unlock EMEA can help launch your brand with key retailers in Europe? Click this link to request a free consultation.