How to succeed in the most attractive business market in the world

Many UK businesses have found it impossible to resist the allure of the US – often with less than ideal results. Retail group Marks & Spencer’s ill-fated acquisition of the stylish clothing brand Brooks Brothers, which it sold in 2001 for a third of what it paid for it 13 years earlier, is one of the clearest examples of how things can go wrong. But there were many others. No doubt, as the desire to grow drives expansion plans, there will be more to come.

But a new book suggests that the US need not be a graveyard for UK companies, or anywhere else. IN Make it in America, Matthew Lee Sawyer, a strategist and consultant whose company, Rocket Market Development, helps companies identify opportunities and succeed in the US markets, offers a few pointers for avoiding disaster. Among the success stories he recounts are how a Turkish immigrant rose from running a feta cheese company to buying a bankrupt dairy and creating Chobani, which within five years became America’s best-selling yogurt, and how the Korean industrial company Hyundai broke through the American car market.

But he also illustrates how things can go wrong. One of his case studies focuses on Alpina, a Colombian dairy and food company that decided to expand into the US in 2007, motivated by the idea that the country had a growing Hispanic population and a yogurt market worth $6 billion and growing for 12 years. at 15% per year. He saw competition in the form of two French brands, Danone and Yoplait, and, according to Sawyer, completely missed the rise of Chobani, a less sweet, thicker style of yogurt that launched the same year Alpina entered the U.S. market and changed American tastes, quickly growing to sales of 460 million dollars and 10% market share. Alpina still operates in the U.S., but its products are mostly in specialty stores for Latin American consumers and, according to research cited in the book, it did not sell any yogurt after 2019.

Among the differences between the two businesses is that Alpina built the plant — saddled with high costs and challenging borrowing terms that in turn meant it had to be aggressive in its plans — while Chobani’s founder bought an existing one under construction at a competitive price. abandoned by a company that was withdrawing from the yogurt market. Unlike Alpine, Chobani expected success to come slowly and was surprised when it happened quickly, giving it money to help it expand further and avoid complicated financial deals. But these are factors that can determine success or failure wherever a company is located.

The value of Sawyer’s boom is in reminding the reader of two oft-quoted but often forgotten or neglected axioms. The first is that although English is still the main language in the US, it is not exactly the same as that spoken in the UK. Companies that think, for example, that they don’t need to adapt their sales brochures or have a different website, are very mistaken. The second is that the US is not one market, but several different ones. Markets are largely defined by geography, but also – as Sawyer explains – by the origins and attitudes of the dominant groups in their population. Companies unwilling to understand such nuances, along with a general appreciation of American culture, may end up missing out on opportunities.

In the end, though, luck and timing must play a role in whether or not a venture succeeds – in the US, just as elsewhere. If Alpina had entered a bit ahead of Chobani, things might have turned out differently. Similarly, the Hyundai might not have done so well if it had launched in the US a decade earlier. But by the mid-1980s, when he introduced his first car, Americans were falling in love with their fuel-guzzling vehicles and might have been more open to newcomers. Even so, it took a hard sell on Hyundai’s history, some innovative advertising and – perhaps most importantly – some sharp pricing to win over the public.

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