There’s a great wealth of experience and knowledge to be accessed through The Chamber. We’ve built up a great relationship and The Chamber have always been keen to understand our business and help us’.
Tobar have over 40 years experience as wholesalers of gifts, toys, gadgets ‘Pocket Money Toys’ and much more besides. They provide everything from product innovation, sourcing packaging, storage and logistics. It’s the complete supply chain solution and it’s delivered by an experienced senior management team with extensive market knowledge.
In the UK they have blue chip customers including Hamleys and Harrods, as well as the major supermarkets.
When it comes to exporting they have distributors around Europe and a second office, in France, who work with a major buying group, Ludendo. Tobar sell into 67 countries, supplying customers worldwide and have a dedicated team for export. They make a point of meeting customers face to face, and attend numerous trade fairs in the UK and Europe.
We asked Joanne about their first experience of exporting, how they chose their first market and what research they did ‘on the ground’ before making the commitment.
‘We didn’t have a policy at first. We had a customer in Sweden who approached us about twenty five years ago. They saw the potential, as did we. They became our agent and the business expanded throughout Scandinavia.
Over time our export experience has grown on business relationships. We’ve developed trust with our customers, which has allowed us to pursue bigger opportunities’.
What’s been the most useful source of information for you when it comes to researching export markets? And the most valuable source of support, helping you to succeed?
‘Oh, definitely becoming a member of the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce. There’s a great wealth of experience and knowledge to be accessed through The Chamber. We’ve built up a great relationship and The Chamber have always been keen to understand our business and help us’.
What have been the most difficult problems you’ve encountered in exporting, and how do you deal with them?
‘There are three answers to that. Overall the main problems we’ve had to address are learning the restrictions and requirements that apply to each country, and then learning the buying trends for each country. We have to gather a lot of information to identify which countries represent the next, good, opportunity for us.
Specifically we needed to appoint a distributor in Germany - it’s our next biggest market after France and we wanted to increase our footprint in Europe.
As to dealing with those issues we’ve gained real help and support by attending The Chamber’s International Trade Courses, and indeed having recommendations from The Chamber on which Government Department is best suited to our individual needs.
The International Trade Training Courses are definitely one of the things we value most as a service from The Norfolk Chamber of Commerce. I’d recommend them to anyone considering, or involved in, exporting’.
How does Tobar distribute in export markets? Do you export direct or use an agent or distributor? Do you export online? What other distribution options did you consider and why did you choose your current methods?
‘Let me try to answer all of those. We do have agents and distributors in Europe. We decided on that because in certain countries where business had grown, the distributor would be able to communicate and reach our customers a lot quicker and drive business forward. They have their own showrooms and attend trade fairs based in their own country. Our customers have easier access to attend fairs in their own country and can view our products with ease. Delivery is within their own country too, cutting down on the customer’s costs and time.
Our customer database is large and we ship all over the world. So we have a catalogue and our product range is accessible online, internationally, through our website’.
What’s the most important lesson you have learned about exporting? If you had one piece of advice for companies considering exporting for the first time, what would it be?
‘I think I can answer both questions at the same time! Consider all the legal exporting documentation that’s required for entering the country, and learn the product restrictions for individual countries. Use an accredited courier who is familiar with Incoterms. Research your shipping costs.
‘A pleasure. It’s a two way street, so we’re happy to share our experience with other Chamber members. We now have considerable experience in Europe, and in ‘rest of world’ our biggest customers are in the UAE.