Completely Retail

Thinking about expanding your retail brand internationally?

Our first guest contributor for the Completely Retail Blog is Mark Burlton, Managing Director of Cross Border Retail Ltd. One of his greatest achievements to date has been working with Primark taking them into 9 different global markets including Germany, France, Italy, Poland and the USA.

Mark gives an insight into his experience working with international retail brands. We ask him for advice on how to launch a business abroad, how to decide what territory to expand into, how to work with different landlords and what he thinks about the challenges that are facing the retail market.

Do you prefer helping UK brands expand into foreign markets, or do you like attracting international brands to the UK?
I definitely swing both ways! As a mild egotist I love walking past shops that I have acquired for clients and it doesn’t matter whether they are in London, Paris, Milan or New York.

What are the major obstacles for a UK brand looking to expand internationally?
Really the only barriers are lack of resources though these can be financial, HR or time related. There are so many ways of entering a new international market so it is wrong to blame any outside factors such as red tape, exchange rates or logistics. They can all be overcome with the right resources and best-in-class advice. 

What do the most successful internationally expanding brands do differently to ensure their success?
They have an unswerving belief in the possibility that they will succeed and they commit the resources to proving themselves right. They also have the courage to admit when it is highly likely that they may fail either because there is no real gap in the market or their USP is in fact not unique in that market.

What are the main factors your clients take into account when choosing a new territory?
The potential for profit is the only real reason for any brand to grow domestically or internationally. This follows on from the point above in that there should be a clear and distinct gap in the market either from the point of fashion, price or product availability. If there are none of these then wait until they are developed and then devote everything you possibly can to making it happen whilst maintaining control at all times.

What are the biggest surprises to international brands when they look to lease UK retail property for the first time?
UK Business Rates are definitely the biggest surprise though they are not necessarily the biggest deterrent. I am yet to find another country in the world with such a pernicious occupier tax and it is certainly in need of reform. Luckily most brands have already researched their opportunity in the UK long before they sign a lease so there shouldn’t be too many other surprises, if there are then you haven’t prepared properly.

What’s the strangest / most remote market you’ve explored for a client?
In the early 90’s I sold an uninhabited Caribbean island for client who had unexpectedly inherited it from a distant relative. Sadly I never got to visit it but my colleague at the time in our Miami office went there by sea-plane and sent me all the pictures. I have never been so jealous in all my life!

The UK retail market is going through a significant period of change at the moment. How do you currently advise international brands looking to open in the UK? How do you see things changing in the future?
The UK isn’t really going through anything (apart from Brexit) that every other advanced economy is going through in relation to retail. We may be further down the evolutionary road than some, but we are all heading in the same direction so your reasons to enter the market are exactly the same as they have ever been. However the scale of opportunity for physical retail has shrunk everywhere so take only what you need and nothing more.

How helpful are UK landlords? How do they differ from say, mainland European and US landlords?
In general the attitudes of UK landlords are up there with the best in the world. However the focus on rental growth is mercifully changing in favour of brand curation and long term sustainability. Our managed high street estates in London are particularly good in the current climate with the likes of Grosvenor, Cadogan, Howard de Walden, The Crown etc providing best-in class examples of investing in and preserving the integrity of their assets.

How can Landlords help attract the best brands, wherever they are in the world?
Make their real estate affordable and, if possible, incredible. Then don your rucksack and go and find them. It can be as simple as knocking on doors or appointing the right internal team do it for you. If you are a small landlord then use resources such as BID’s, industry events and a really good broker!

Should Central London be the only initial choice for a new brand looking to establish themselves in the UK?
No but it is highly likely that it will be. In this multi-channel world you should already know where most of your customers will come from and rightly or wrongly, the biggest and wealthiest city in any country is likely to contain the highest number of them. There is a strong argument to say ‘make cheap mistakes’ so a less obvious first store might make sense but I would want to see a compelling reason, than fear of failure to promote it.

The potential for profit is the only real reason for any brand to grow domestically or internationally.

Mark Burlton Cross Border Retail Ltd

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