In late 2011, I wrote about Export Now, an e-commerce and services company aiming to help small businesses sell their goods and services to Chinese consumers. Export Now essentially acts as a small company's international trade representative, handling the shipments and import functions, and setting up an e-commerce presence on Tmall.com, a site owned by giant Alibaba.
When Export Now was launched, the founder Frank Lavin told me that participting SMBs will pay a $3,000 start-up fee, which covers getting one pallet of products into China and listing for up to 12 months. They also pay a 10 percent transaction fee for all products sold.
Recently, I spoke with a small "conscious" footwear company from New Orleans, Feelgoodz, which is testing out the service. The four-year-old startup mainly sells wholesale into markets and stores that carry natural foods and products (its biggest customer is Whole Foods). But the founder Kyle Berner is trying to put a real focus on increasing his online business, and that is where China comes in. "The margins for us are much healthier," Berner said.
Feelgoodz has been working with Export Now for the past couple of months, and plans to put an emphasis on building its Chinese business over the course of 2013. Here are three things other entrepreneurs can take away from Berner's experience:
1. Expect the build-up to take time: Feelgoodz really didn't see many sales during the first quarter of the relationship, only about 10. But that's more than none.
2. Keep close tabs on progress: Even though Feelgoodz didn't really have to do much to get things set up, it is speaking regularly with Export Now in order to keep tabs on its progress and analyze the value of its investment.
3. Take time to understand buying trends: In the case of Feelgoodz, a focus on natural products matches a growing interest among Chinese consumers for environment conscious products, Berner said.