Kim McAllister: Going international

Here’s an example of how small the world is.

Today’s column in an interview with Steve Dawson, who’s flying over from New York to speak at next week’s Scottish International Week, organized by Scottish Business Network the Institute of Directors Scotland.

We were chatting about export, brand Scotland and the Edinburgh tech scene, when he mentioned a new app whose founder he’s been advising. It’s only the same app I’m working with as communications manager! I’ll tell you more about LiberEat in a few weeks, once we’ve launched, but for now, let me share some of Steve’s insights.

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His presentation next Thursday is going to focus on the US food and drinks market – an industry a number of Scottish businesses are keen to crack.

As a Global Scot who’s also a US citizen, he has a unique perspective on growing in this market.

“I was CEO of the American division of Walkers Shortbread for eight years and I left with enormous respect for Jim Walker’s integrity,” he told me.

“They really took control of their destiny in the US, they took the long term view in terms of commitment to their people and the business. We built deep relationships with customers like Costco and Starbucks and really tailored the product to local requirements. The pack formats were very flexible but the integrity of the product was always paramount and it’s interesting because if you ask business people about Scotland, they use that same word. Scotland is seen as having real integrity, being focused, financially savvy, entrepreneurial – and a nation of risk takers.”

I admit I’m relieved we’ve moved on from castles and tartan – but it seems we can still use the stereotype to our advantage.

“We can’t deny where we came from,” Steve pointed out. “America is a nation of immigrants, don’t forget, they love a story. They want to know the brand’s story, its culture and its people.”

He will discuss a number of success stories in his presentation – all companies “with attitude” who use social media cleverly to create a competitive advantage – because the American market remains as ferociously competitive as ever.

“The old export model of 20-30 years ago is broken thanks to ecommerce – entities like Amazon,” he said. “There’s a huge wellness agenda. Small-scale brands have exploded and become powerful niche players. This represents a huge opportunity for Scottish brands who aren’t afraid to be different.”

Social media, unsurprisingly, plays an enormous role in this ‘attitude’. Steve pointed out that it’s not necessarily about having the right contacts – if you represent your brand well on social media that is often enough for a distributor to agree to a meeting.

“Of course the biggest investment is in time – and that’s something most small businesses really don’t have,” he said. “You need to physically be there several weeks a year, telling your story. [Marmalade company] Mackays of Dundee worked very hard in a declining market and built a very good business – their persistence paid off.”

High Growth articles from Kim McAllister

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