Based in Margate in the south-east of England, seaweed-obsessed soap and skincare company Haeckels set its sights on Osaka, Japan, for its first international store. Never one to do it the easy way, the company – which was founded in 2012 – decided it wanted to make all its in-store products using local Japanese ingredients. Managing director Charlie Vickery shares his thoughts on (an unfortunately timed) expansion.
When did you know you were ready?
‘The demand was there but 2020 was the year we wanted to go global. We signed the lease for our Japan store in January of that year – and we all know what happened in March. There's no use opening up a local supply chain if there's no demand in that geography. So, we spent a long time [on] planning and building communities before committing to global expansion.’
How did you plan your international supply chain?
‘Haeckels' global vision is to set up local supply chains in key territories rather than ship everything from Margate. That means you base production in a local seaside town so you can rebuild products using the same formula but different ingredients. We did this first in Japan by forming a friendship with local fishermen in Hinase, Okayama. We were then able to piggyback on their harvest of eelgrass and built out our operations from there. We're fortunate that we formulate and manufacture all our products, so we have all the intellectual property and know-how in-house.’
What mistakes have you made?
‘Where do we begin? It's proven very tricky in some regions where we don't have an established network to have reliable production. We tend to have to be on site in these locations, which can pull focus away from our main market in the UK. It's also much more expensive to formulate unique products for every new market. It's a long-term business plan but, thankfully, we have investors who understand that.’
What advice would you give a founder looking to expand?
‘Don't underestimate the energy required to work in multiple time zones with a small team. Don't underestimate the power of in-person meetings – it's very easy to misinterpret words over email or Zoom but hard to do so once you have a physical rapport with people.’
This article was first published in How to Start a Business 2023. To purchase a copy or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.