Brian Scudamore is the Founder and CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, one of the fastest growing companies in North America, Australia and the UK. Brian has been a member of EO since 2004 and will be a speaker at the 2007 Las Vegas University. To contact Brian, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Risk. From the moment I decided to start my own business, I knew this was a word I would learn to both love and loathe. The decisions I make as a company leader affect the hundreds of franchise partners who follow our company model, not to mention the staff that support them. So, when I decided to expand internationally, I knew I had to plan our incursions carefully.
Moving into a new territory brings many challenges, but it also gives you an unmatched indicator of the strength of your core business. One of our goals at 1-800-GOTJUNK? is to become a globally admired company with a presence in 10 different countries by 2012. We took the first step in 1997 when we expanded into the US, whose population is 10 times greater than Canada’s. Built on consumerism, America would likely have 10 times the need for junk-removal services.
We decided to sell our first US franchise in Portland, Oregon, USA. Not only is Portland a close cultural match to Vancouver, but the location is easily accessible, the climate is similar and our concept fits the city’s bylaws.
Moving to the US proved a viable way to test international waters. Doing business south of the border is similar to working in Canada, although there are differences. For example, we discovered we couldn’t put flyers in people’s mailboxes because they are owned by the U.S. Postal Service. Gone, suddenly, was one of our fundamental marketing tactics. But diversity within the US also brought challenges. Our bright blue uniforms had to change. In Vancouver, winter work-wear means dressing our staff in logoed rain jackets. In Chicago, it means thick blue parkas and ski hats. In Phoenix, we need Dri-FIT shirts and blue shorts to handle hot summers. Environmental laws also vary from city to city, forcing us to implement our own recycling programs in some markets. Luckily, we had solid training systems in place to get us over these hurdles.
With Canada and the US under our belt, we ventured into the UK and “Down Under.” Keeping our brand consistent across borders wasn’t easy. There is a balance of staying religiously loyal to the brand and staying aware of local values, tactics,
systems, languages, etc. This is the same in every country— but with a local angle. For instance, in the UK we don’t remove “yard waste,” we remove “garden rubbish.” Also, 1-800-GOTJUNK? became Gotjunk.com because European phone keys don’t contain letters. Even the size of our trucks had to be modified to accommodate Britain’s narrower
roads. Creating territories to sell to franchise partners was just as different in Australia, where postal codes follow logic unlike that used in Canada and the USA. In Australia, our logo doesn’t have the dash in “1-800,” as that is the country standard.
Technology also cut our costs. The Internet helped us save money by discovering where to advertise, which suppliers to contact and what franchisers we could learn from. Google enabled us to scan newspaper headlines and the websites of competitors. We even saved on travel costs by hiring our general manager through videoconferencing. As much as I’d like to say all of our ideas were brilliant, some were not. FedExing boxes of marketing materials to Australia proved extraordinarily costly. We also learned it’s very expensive to ship our trademark blue “dump boxes” when they’re pre-assembled. We’re now sourcing suppliers to build our boxes from scratch in Europe and Australia.
These trials taught me a valuable lesson. In many ways it has become easy for businesses to go global. Brands such as FedEx and chains like Starbucks have not only inspired and mentored us, but proved that North American formats can be welcomed in foreign markets. It’s important to stay focused when entering new markets. No matter how well I do my research, there will always be unexpected details that have to be managed differently. In the end, I realized that if the core of my business isn’t rock solid, I’m unlikely to profit internationally. Taking risks is good, but sticking to smart risks is even better.