11/09/2014

By Richard Dorf, CEO of PXtech


It’s no secret that the marker of any successful retailer is growth. From the very beginning businesses are geared towards increasing everything – higher volumes of customers, sales, orders and profits are the stuff dreams are made of – but how do you push that growth not only on home turf – but into wider foreign markets too?

Of course growth is important, but it also needs to be sustainable - so keeping control of operational standards as well as financial performance is a must. Growing across geographical boundaries is arguably a positive step, but it also poses many challenges – not least the ability to have a comprehensive view of all activity, from financial controls to marketing collateral, across various time zones and global locations.

A key factor is the ability to develop a common understanding of the way in which your business measures success. Depending on the size and scale of the retailer this could include departmental turnover to key metrics such as productivity, customer count or average transaction value. Whatever the markers, it is imperative that this is communicated from the offset in a way that has no danger of being lost in translation. Only when the goal posts have been set can a retailer judge success, so it’s vital to make this a priority early on.

It’s also important to note that these standards should not just be limited to financial performance, but the performance of the business as a whole. Clear metrics are often the best method, covering the essential factors to delivering and maintaining success – like brand values, marketing strategies and any notable product and operational standards.

Naturally there are a range of technological solutions at hand to help keep tabs on multiple business units regardless of global location. A common solution used to provide the core metrics comes from till software data. It is crucial to ensure that the measures of success are the same – even if targets are likely to differ from unit to unit or country to country. Across the board, data for comparison must be in a streamlined format in order to give a comprehensive business overview.

A business intelligence platform that allows speedy analysis and delivers information that can be consumed and actioned at all levels of the business can often be a lifeline. In addition, with some suppliers now offering access to your business’ data remotely via phone laptop, iPad or smartphone – waiting for reams of data to be delivered at month-end is a thing of the past – allowing for any issues to be fixed in real-time, before turning into big and often resource-sapping problems.

Say, for example, one of your units had not put out the appropriate marketing material for a newly-launched promotion. An effective real-time business intelligence system would alert you to the missing sales for the promotion, allowing you to intervene before the problem has impacted business performance for days.

It may seem a lot to take on board, but not having a comprehensive view throughout the organisation of the expected standards along with a way to measure all areas against those standards, day by day, leaves the business exposed.

Imagine owning a unit that was running with serious operational issues - yet being completely unaware because those directly in charge had no cause for concern. The reach of such a misunderstanding could be huge. Often when there isn’t a clear view of what success entails from the offset, the gap is filled by the locally accepted point of view – which can of course vary massively from country to country.

The end result is often one brand, but many different companies – leading to huge variations in quality, customer service and brand perception. Once this has happened, sorting it out is akin to herding cats.

There are various different ways of approaching how fast to grow your business abroad – but ultimately it’s down to the individual retailer in question. Clearly growing too slowly can be deadly if you exist below critical mass for a long period of time, while growing fast is tempting but full of potential pitfalls.

Ultimately, the key to expanding abroad is good organisation and a strong, universal understanding of what success looks like. Once that has been determined, putting in measures to create sufficient control over brand values is the next reasonable step. Keeping a close watch on your particular brand personality is essential – it’s probably what made your business a success in the first place – and once damaged it is near impossible to recover.

The best approach is to explore a new market for a short period, learn and adapt quickly and then gear the business towards fast growth once everything is in as good an order as it can be. Maintaining strong operational control is paramount, as is not being afraid to fail, learn and adapt along the way.