The challenges of launching an international retail brand in the UK

Prosper’s recent delivery of Maisons Du Monde into the UK highlights the various challenges that brands face when opening a physical store internationally.

Following their work with the French retailer to open concession stores in three UK cities, Pilar and Jerome share the lessons they learned on the project.

Dipping the toe

Expanding into a new market could be a costly move filled with unknowns, so the more data that you can gather in advance, the better. Having an international, English-language website is a good way to test the water to get an early indication of demand in the physical British market, as well as help drive initial brand awareness. 

Brands with e-commerce operations that sell and deliver goods online to a current customer base have the advantage of up and running logistical channels ahead of a physical store opening. Plus they understand their buyer profiles, the products they purchase and the demographic segmentation of their customers.

Forming a beneficial partnership

Teaming up with an established UK retailer, such as a national department store, can bring mutual benefits. For the international retailer, it’s the importance of prime high-street locations. For the department store, it’s the attraction of a new name to their floorspace, generating renewed interest and excitement.

Coordinating many parties

Whilst a partnership with an existing UK retailer can be helpful, it also has its complexities. When several parties are involved in a retail launch project, the coordination of multiple teams and adherence to the preferred guidelines of each party is required.

Such guidelines and procedures can include the shopping centre’s rigorous retail design guide, the client’s store layout drawings and signage standards. Negotiation and compromise come in to play so that each party is happy with the result. 

Complex logistics

Delivery of fit-out items from suppliers such as shelves and flooring can also prove challenging, especially at shopping centres in the middle of a city. “In London, the high level of security at shopping centres mean deliveries are very controlled,” says Pilar.

“Everything must be booked 48 hours in advance for approval by the shopping centre, then a half hour slot is allocated within which the delivery must take place” she says. “The truck registration plates and driver name must also be specified, and if anything is different, they won’t be allowed to deliver.”

Delivery delays

Many international brands prefer to use their existing, trusted suppliers for shop fixtures and fittings which may require suppliers to travel long distances from their Country of origin. In the case of Prosper’s most recent project, suppliers had to travel through the Eurotunnel which often results in traffic holdups. This can mean a struggle to supply fixtures and fittings, especially if there is a tight timeframe and specific delivery slots.

Deliveries can also be delayed because of the differences between the UK pound and the client’s currency, so instead of one big delivery, items arrive sporadically as and when they are paid.

“It can be difficult to keep track of deliveries and identify if items are missing,” says Jérôme. “In the case of the flooring for our most recent project, the main parts arrived but the edging trims were too late so the contractor had to find and fit a last-minute alternative.”

Contrasts in contractor arrangements

The way most UK projects are run - where the client hires a main contractor for design and build who is responsible for delivery of many elements - can seem strange to international brands.

For example, in France the client selects different contractors who they employ directly, with a project manager or architect leading the coordination. It is therefore necessary to understand from the outset the difference in commercial operations and procurement.

Health and safety differences

It can be complex for international brands to navigate the different health and safety regulations between countries and can even stall a project with a short program if they are not adhered to. An understanding of the building regulations and health and safety law of the country the store is being launched in is essential to protect a client should anything go wrong. Translation of information packs, such as pre-construction manuals are also required.

On-site workers delivering projects in the UK need a CSCS card accreditation - so if an international brand wants to use its native shopfitters, they must pass this test which requires time and investment. This is one of the reasons why a local contractor is always appointed. 

Smoothing communications - Bilingual Skills

Often international suppliers on UK projects don’t speak English, so having an internal and external project team with bilingual skills is essential to eliminate communication barriers.

The value and importance of a linguistically capable team should not be underestimated and is especially vital to understand the client’s priorities, key specifications and expectations during the briefing stage. Clarifying their internal approval process then reproducing this in different languages is also crucial so that both UK and international parties involved in the project are aware of their responsibilities and obligations.

New territory, new challenges

Even if an international brand has experience of moving into new markets, each territory has its own idiosyncrasies. Appointing a multilingual project team with local knowledge will reduce the obstacles and confusion that can naturally occur when doing international business.  

To see how we delivered a French retailer’s UK store in practice, read our Maisons du Monde case study.

Jodene Barron-Alcock

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