How to expand internationally in a downturn

We asked two founders for some insights into why they chose to take their business overseas and how, even in the current climate, a move abroad might not be the worst idea.
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Making the leap beyond your borders is a tough enough decision. But doing it in the face of a global economic downturn and while battling decades-high inflation complicates matters. Yet now might be the best time to do so, some would argue – so, how should you do it? We asked two businesses for some insights.

1. HUX 

UK nutritional supplement brand HUX was founded in 2020 by Damien Byrne, Fadi Shuman and Alistair Hargreaves. Damien was a former sales director at Mars Wrigley Confectionery, tasked with expanding the availability of KIND granola bars outside of North America. Because of that, he says: ‘I have a reasonable amount of comfort with setting up manufacturing in different parts of the world and then taking brands to different countries.’

Damien says expanding beyond your borders is easier said than done. You have to make sure that you have all of the required regulatory approvals and a brand strategy tailored to that country – because every market is different, which includes the suppliers of raw ingredients and their requirements. That's vital when talking about a nutritional or edible product because minute changes in formulation can result in different flavors and standards – all of which may make people question why anyone would bother expanding in the first place. ‘You can end up wasting a lot of time and money, and resources in all aspects of environmental and commercial, in moving products around the world unnecessarily,’ says Damien. 

Inflationary pressures have increased the risks of scaling the business, but he still sees it as a positive. ‘Any business that comes out the other side will be a fundamentally stronger business,’ he says.

2. Nappa Dori

Gautam Sinha's company Nappa Dori has expanded twice in the last few years: first from India to London in March 2019 and most recently in March 2022 to Dubai. The leather goods company's founder and creative director decided to expand from India using a simple maxim: ‘carpe diem’ – or seize the day. ‘The way the world is at this point in time, with the economics in Europe and the war and pandemic, a lot of brands are sitting still and not doing anything,’ Gautam says. But for Nappa Dori, it's an opportunity.

‘This is the time we can make that entry into other markets and get it at a decent price and establish ourselves,’ he says. ‘Why not just take a shot in the dark?’ Gautam carefully chose the places to expand beyond Nappa Dori's homeland: Dubai was chosen as the center of a changing Middle Eastern world. ‘It's a market that has immense potential,’ he says. ‘And that's the reason to go ahead.’

Nappa Dori learned from its first international foray how to better handle its second one. The main learning? ‘I didn't need a PR team or anything,’ he says. ‘If the product's good and we're in the right location, people will talk.’ But it needs to be an internationally palatable product. ‘The brands that are going to survive internationally in the long run will be the ones who have a more unified, international kind of look and feel,’ Gautam says.

In Courier's latest print magazine, we caught up with David Heath, the CEO of US-based sock and apparel brand Bombas, which decided to go global in 2021 after nearly a decade since launch. David shares his five biggest lessons from the move here.

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