He says: “We have a growing global footprint. At the start, our sales overseas were fairly reactive. People would call us from all sorts of countries and ask if they could stock our product. It was all done by responding to inquiries. But there came a point where I felt we needed a strong export business as a hedge to what is going on in the UK at the moment.
“I got behind our export strategy two years ago, and promoted an export manager from our sales force. Thanks to him, we went from a couple of hundred thousand pounds to more than half a million pounds of export business. And we are proactive. We go out and present things to companies, rather than seeing whether the phone rings.”
Green Sheep’s products are stocked in most of the UK’s best-known baby and child retailers, including John Lewis, and Mamas and Papas. The business also has a direct-to-consumer website selling into the UK. Top products include a bedside crib with a removable side, which is designed to keep new babies close to their parents but allows them to sleep safely, and a cot for older babies that expands into a cot bed and then a bed for children up to the age of 10.
These products are sold under one of the company’s brands, Snuz, while organic bedding, towels and mattresses are sold under the Little Green Sheep brand.
Tips for a good trading relationship
1 Do your research first
“It’s been really important to understand the dynamics in the countries we want to sell into – what parenting is like, and what it is like to be a mum or dad. The buyer wants to know that we understand them.”
2 Become a real standards expert
“Safety is so important. Being able to prove we know the standards in a country, and our products are rigorously designed to meet them, is key. We’re planning to expand into the US. The safety standards for cots are quite different. It will cost us £10,000 to redesign SnuzPod, but we’ll take that expense before we start looking for partners there.”
3 Keep the channels open
“We make sure that almost all our customers have some face time with us every year, and we often call, visit and email. This level of communication is really important when it comes to maintaining a good trading relationship.”
When looking to expand into new territories, Mr Allen said the business carefully researched the market in the countries he was considering, including the parenting culture, as well as the shipping, transport and insurance issues. Then his export manager visited the most appropriate retailers in the regions to discuss the products.